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Resources and Readings
On Criminal Justice, Youth and Girls Justice

Investigative Journalism
On Criminal Justice

The Marshall Project
The Marshall Project is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization that seeks to create and sustain a sense of national urgency about the U.S. criminal justice system. We have an impact on the system through journalism, rendering it more fair, effective, transparent, and humane. Also see:
The Marshall Project: We Are Witnesses
The Marshall Project: Next To Die

No Kids in Prison
The site charts trends of racial and gender injustice across the juvenile justice system. It features information on where youth are locked up in America, how much we spend on incarcerating youth and the racial and ethnic disparities.
An interactive experience guides you through the past and present of youth incarceration showing a possible future where young people are no longer locked up.
No Kids in Prison: Experience

The Life Story
Explore 13 moments when survivors, service providers, funders, advocates, and allies can make a difference for girls and women in The Life.

Broken Record: The Continued Criminalization of Mental Health Issues
John Howard Society of Ontario
Both the latest report and the online project reveal how people with mental health issues end up in Ontario’s criminal justice system and the destructive consequences that result for these individuals, their families, taxpayers, and all of society.

70 Million Podcast Series
By LCW Studios
This Peabody-nominated documentary podcast investigates how locals are addressing the role of jails in their backyards. Reporters travel around the country and hear from people directly impacted by encounters with jails and adjacent policies, and from those committed to reversing the negative effects on people and communities.

State-by-State Data
By The Sentencing Project
This site compiles state-level criminal justice data from a variety of sources. Interactive features include the State Data Map (where you can rollover states for a quick snapshot of key figures), Detailed State Data as well as State Rankings.

Articles, Reports, Analysis, Essays
Justice For Girls

Gender Injustice: System-Level Juvenile Justice Reform for Girls
By Annie Balck and Francine Sherman
As a result of a growing understanding of developmental and neurological differences between youth and adults, the high cost of incarceration, and the consistent failure of a punitive juvenile justice model, systems are initiating reforms and challenging approaches across the country. However, they are routinely failing to modify them for girls or even to collect data on how girls, specifically, are affected by the problems they are seeking to remedy. If an intentional gender focus does not coexist with current large-scale system reforms, an important opportunity for gender justice and equity and developmental system reforms will be missed.

Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood
By Rebecca Epstein, Georgetown University Law Center - Center on Poverty and Inequality; Jamilia Blake, Texas A&M University; Talia González, Occidental College This groundbreaking study provides—for the first time—data showing that adults view Black girls as less innocent and more adult-like than their white peers, especially in the age range of 5-14, and looks deeply into this adultification of Black girls. This report led to focus-group research conducted by the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty's Initiative on Gender Justice and Opportunity and stories discussed by Black women and girls.

Girls and the Juvenile Justice System
By the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP)
Today, nearly 30 percent of juveniles arrested are girls or young women and their share of arrests, detainment, and court cases has steadily increased over the past two decades. Unfortunately, their stories remain unchanged. Often girls of color and girls living in poverty are victims of violence, including physical and sexual abuse. They are typically nonviolent and pose little or no risk to public safety. Their involvement with the juvenile justice system usually does more harm than good. When girls are limited in their access to education and treatment, or when their numbers increase in the juvenile justice system (relative to boys)–particularly for assaultive behavior, status offenses, and technical violations of probation–we are often not supporting them or providing them with the tools they need to become successful adults.

Neglected Needs: Girls in the Criminal Justice System
By Penal Reform International / Inter-agency Panel for Juvenile Justice (IPJJ)
Girls are one of the most vulnerable groups involved in criminal justice systems because of their age, gender, and small numbers. Relatively little is known or understood about offending by girls, their specific needs whilst in detention, or what is effective in terms of gender-sensitive rehabilitation and social reintegration measures.

Girls Matter
By Lindsay Rosenthal, Vera Institute of Justice
A 13-year-old girl runs away because her mother’s boyfriend makes her feel uncomfortable, and her mother fights with her about "trying to get his attention."
A 16-year-old girl is living on the street. Her parents will not let her live in their home because she is a lesbian. Her father wants her to stop "dressing like a boy."
A 15-year-old girl repeatedly runs away from her foster home and misses school. She is pregnant and says everyone calls her a "ho."
These scenarios illustrate some common ways that gender can profoundly shape the circumstances leading girls and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and gender nonconforming (LGB/TGNC) children into court and the juvenile justice system for status offenses.

The Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline: The Girls’ Story
By Malika Saada Saar, Human Rights Project for Girls; Rebecca Epstein, Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality; Lindsay Rosenthal, Ms. Foundation for Women; Yasmin Vafa, Human Rights Project for Girls
This report exposes the ways in which we criminalize girls—especially girls of color—who have been sexually and physically abused. It offers policy recommendations to dismantle the abuse to prison pipeline. Illustrative examples include the detention of girls who are victims of sex trafficking, run away or become truant because of abuse, or cross into juvenile justice from the child welfare system.

Reforming Juvenile System For Girls Requires Stories, Three Experts Say
By Karen Savage, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange (JJIE)
Photographer Richard Ross was joined by Michelle De Young, a social worker in the juvenile unit of the public defender’s office juvenile unit in San Francisco, and Kasie Lee, an assistant district attorney for the city and county of San Francisco. A common thread was the power of storytelling to both inform and reform the juvenile justice system. Ross has talked with more than 1,000 young people over the years, but he puts a special priority on amplifying the voices of those he’s visited in solitary, or isolation units.

Youth Justice

Group Art Therapy as An Intervention For Adolescents With Insecure Attachments and Substance Use Problems
By Leyla Akca
Akca has been developing and conducting trauma rehabilitation workshops utilizing creative art therapy in the US and Turkey, as well as Syrian refugee children, and providing training to others in the field. This qualitative study explored the use of art therapy as an intervention for adolescents with substance abuse issues in an intensive outpatient care program. Bowlby’s attachment theory as well as neurobiological effects of maladaptive attachment styles were examined in order to identify, examine and understand possible underlying problems that may be contributing to developing substance abuse disorders in adolescence.

What Do Police Know About Teenagers? Not Enough.
By Meryl Davids Landau, The New York Times
On psychology and mental health. "According to Dr. Matthew Aalsma, a psychologist and an instructor in the program, when police officers interact with teens, they tend to assume that the teen will be brash and disrespectful and will likely react emotionally.”

Policing of Children and Young People: A Case for "Child-Friendly Police"
By the Global Initiative on Justice With Children
Children and young people come into contact with the police for a variety of reasons, whether they commit offenses, witness crimes, or are victims of crimes. Children’s developing emotional and psychological maturity puts them at increased risk of exploitation during police contact and within the justice system. This paper considers the relationship between children and the police globally and analyses the international frameworks that govern this relationship.

Just Kids: When Misbehaving Is a Crime
By Masha Jafarian and Vidhya Ananthakrishnan, Vera Institute of Justice
Skipping school, running away from home, violating curfew: these are not actions that most people imagine would land a kid in the juvenile justice system. And yet, every year, thousands of kids across the United States are handcuffed, taken to court, or locked up for just these misbehaviors—often referred to as status offenses—which are only illegal because of a kid’s status as a minor.

Juvenile Justice in Tennessee, Black Children Were Jailed for a Crime That Doesn’t Exist. Almost Nothing Happened to the Adults in Charge.
By Meribah Knight, Nashville Public Radio and Ken Armstrong, ProPublica
Judge Donna Scott Davenport oversees a juvenile justice system in Rutherford County, Tennessee, with a staggering history of jailing children. She said kids must face consequences, which rarely seem to apply to her or the other adults in charge. They investigated why.

The Lessons of California for Juvenile Justice Reform
By Daniel Macallair, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange (JJIE)
A fundamental reality often forgotten by juvenile justice reformers is that institutional changes are short-lived, and staff quickly slide back into conventional, disciplinary practices. This fact is again revealing itself in California, as youth recently released from DJJ tell all too familiar stories of gang warfare, rampant violence, staff brutality, and administrative indifference. The resilience of institutions to resist change should never be underestimated. California offers a lesson on the limitations of lawsuits to permanently alter institutional realities. By focusing on a narrow range of institutional deficits, the Farrell lawsuit actually served to legitimize the existing system and laid the foundation for its regeneration.

When I Was Labeled a ‘Troubled’ Teen, I Obliged
By Kenneth Rosen, New York Times
“I was sent to three “tough love” programs meant to redirect me. Trying to run away from one made me feel that I had no choice but to become what I had been told I was.”

Black Disparities in Youth Incarceration
By Josh Rovner, The Sentencing Project
Despite long-term declines in youth incarceration, the disparity at which black and white youth are held in juvenile facilities has grown. Black youth are more than four times as likely to be detained or committed in juvenile facilities as their white peers. [chart comparing Black & white Youth held in juvenile facilities, July 2021]

The Pitfalls of Separating Youth in Prison: A Critique of Age-Segregated Incarceration
By Hedi Viterbo, from The Palgrave Handbook on Youth Imprisonment
Debates over youth imprisonment tend to consider only its impact on youth. Yet, it is adults, no less than youth, whom age-segregated incarceration targets. By associating incarcerated youth with vulnerability, plasticity, and the need for special protection, age segregation signals that those on the other side are more dangerous, culpable, and incorrigible. Consequently, through essentialism, age segregation makes harshness and apathy toward imprisoned adults appear natural, obvious, and hence requiring little if any justification. Once separated, adults in prison can be denied protections reserved exclusively for youth.

I Was Sentenced to Life as a Juvenile. Now I Help Kids Build Brighter Futures.
By Fred Weatherspoon as told to Lakeidra Chavis, The Marshall Project
Imprisoned for 25 years, Fred Weatherspoon was shocked to return to a Chicago he didn’t recognize. He found belonging in an unexpected way—working with vulnerable young people and their families.

Closing Youth Prisons

Bring Our Children Home: A Prison-to-School Pipeline for New Jersey’s Youth
By The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice
For more than half a century, New Jersey operated the Bordentown School, also referred to as the “Tuskegee of the North,” an elite public boarding school for New Jersey’s Black youth. Today, however, the Female Secure Care and Intake Facility (also known as Hayes), the state’s only girls’ youth prison, now occupies the land on which this school once stood. The transition of Bordentown from a school to a prison reflects a practice that occurs in far too many classrooms across New Jersey, where students of color are pushed into the youth justice system and ultimately into our state’s youth prisons. Former Governor Chris Christie’s historic announcement of the closure of two of the state’s youth prisons, Hayes and the New Jersey Training School for Boys (also known as Jamesburg), and the creation of two smaller youth rehabilitation centers based on national best practices, is an important step in transforming the state’s youth justice system.

Breaking Down the Walls: Lessons Learned from Successful Campaigns to Close Youth Prisons in Six States
By Youth First
During the past two decades, juvenile justice systems in numerous states have made progress towards transformational change. Advocates, grassroots activists, and attorneys have worked alongside young people involved with the system, as well as their families, to dismantle the current system of youth incarceration and to establish in its place responses to adolescent behavior that respect children and families and build on their strengths. In addition to improving the lives of children and families impacted by the justice system, these reforms have saved taxpayer money without compromising public safety.

Women and Incarceration

Violence Against Women as a Cause and Consequence of Custody
By Elizabeth Brundige
Kate was a victim before she was a defendant. As a child, she was sexually abused by her stepfather. As a young adult, she was physically and sexually abused by her boyfriend, who repeatedly beat her and forced her to have sex against her will. On three occasions, the injuries that he caused were so severe that Kate had to be admitted to the hospital. One day, high on drugs, he demanded that she perform oral sex and, when she refused, he began shouting and threatening her, grabbed her by the neck and started choking her. Panicked, Kate reached for the gun that she knew he kept under his seat and pulled the trigger. For this act, which resulted in his death, Kate was convicted of first-degree manslaughter. She spent seventeen years in prison.

A Woman’s Journey Home
By Stephanie S. Covington
Both a need and an opportunity exist to bring knowledge from other fields into the criminal justice system to develop effective programs for women. Until recently, theory and research on criminality focused on crimes perpetrated by men, with male offenders viewed as the norm. Historically, correctional programming for women has thus been based on profiles of male criminality or paths to crime. However, the policies, services, and programs that focus on the overwhelming number of men in the corrections system often fail to identify gender and culturally responsive options for women’s specific needs. While men and women face some similar challenges upon returning to the community, the intensity, multiplicity, and specificity of their needs– and the most effective ways for addressing them–are very different.

From Prison to PhD.: The Redemption and Rejection of Michelle Jones
By Eli Hager, The New York Times
Michelle Jones was released after serving more than two decades in an Indiana prison for the murder of her 4-year-old son. The very next day, she arrived at New York University, a promising Ph.D. student in American studies. N.Y.U. was one of several top schools that recruited her for their doctoral programs. She was also among 18 selected from more than 300 applicants to Harvard University’s history program.

Magdalene Laundries: The First Prisons for Women in the United States*
By Michelle Jones and Lori Record, Indiana Women’s Prison Higher Education Program
The Indiana Women’s Prison, originally known as the Indiana Reformatory Institution for Women and Girls, is considered the first separate prison for women in the United States. We believe that distinction belongs instead to Catholic institutions commonly referred to as "Magdalene Laundries" that were established throughout the nation beginning in the 1840s and that served as private prisons for women whose sexuality offended mainstream society.

On Discrimination, Racial bias and Eugenics

Britney Spears, Carrie Buck and the awful history of controlling ‘unfit’ women
By Gillian Brockell, The Washington Post
On individual & state control of ‘unfit’ women…
To historians of eugenics, Spears’s ordeal sounds very familiar. It’s a story of control—control of a woman’s labor, civil rights, parental custody, legal representation, and even her reproductive system.

The Forgotten Lessons of the American Eugenics Movement
By Andrea DenHoed, The New Yorker
"When Carrie (Buck) was sent to the Virginia Colony, in 1924, the forward thinkers of America were preoccupied by the imagined genetic threat of feeblemindedness, a capaciously defined condition that was diagnosed using often flawed intelligence tests and by identifying symptoms such as moral degeneracy, an overactive sex drive, and other traits liberally ascribed to poor people (especially poor women) who were seen as having stepped out of line."

Eugenics, "Degenerate Girls," and Social Workers During the Progressive Era
By Angie C. Kennedy, SAGE Journals
The U.S. eugenics movement, which sought to encourage the "wellborn" to have children and actively discourage and even prohibit the "unfit" from having children, became increasingly popular and influential during the Progressive Era, shaping public discourse, emerging social work practice approaches, and state and federal public policy. This article details the eugenics movement; examines why young women, particularly those who were poor, non-Anglo-Saxon, and living in urban areas, were targeted as the key to preventing the unfit from propagating; and explores the relationship between eugenics and early social workers, focusing particular attention on their work with young women.

Eugenics, Women of Color and Reproductive Health: The Saga Continues
By Judith A.M. Scully, SSRN
The article begins with a detailed historical account of the eugenics movement and presents various examples of involuntary and forced sterilization practices among women of color that were widely accepted after the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of forced sterilizations in Buck v. Bell. The discussion extends into the use of birth control, not as an empowering tool that women use to control fertility, but rather as population control.

‘Something Was Missing’: 97% of North Carolina Survey Respondents Never Taught About State’s Grim Eugenics History
By The 74
Over 7,600 sterilizations were carried out by the state of North Carolina between 1929 and 1974 in a campaign to "weed out" disabled and so-called "feebleminded" individuals under the state’s eugenic sterilization law which medically robbed victims of the ability to have children. Over 30 states in the U.S. enacted similar laws, but North Carolina carried out the third-highest number of sterilizations in the nation, after California and Virginia and, in its later years, the program almost exclusively targeted poor Black women.

Criminal Justice and Mass Incarceration

The Language of Incarceration
By Alexandra Cox, SAGE Journals
This brief think piece considers the uses of "people first" language in the context of incarceration, both from a historical and contemporary perspective, and offers some thoughts about the use of this language by prison researchers. It focuses on the uses of such language in the context of disability studies and rights, and the focus on language by activists working to challenge systemic racism and abuse in prison systems in the 1960s and 1970s. It makes an argument for prison researchers to use language intentionally in keeping with broader disciplinary concerns around meaning-making in prisons.

Masked Racism: Reflections on the Prison Industrial Complex
By Angela Davis
Imprisonment has become the response of first resort to far too many of the social problems that burden people who are ensconced in poverty. These problems often are veiled by being conveniently grouped together under the category "crime" and by the automatic attribution of criminal behavior to people of color. Homelessness, unemployment, drug addiction, mental illness, and illiteracy are only a few of the problems that disappear from public view when the human beings contending with them are relegated to cages. With quote: "Use what is dominant in a culture to change it quickly" by Jenny Holzer

Is Prison Necessary? Ruth Wilson Gilmore Might Change Your Mind
By Rachel Kushner, New York Times
Prison abolition, as a movement, sounds provocative and absolute, but what it is as a practice requires subtler understanding. For Gilmore, who has been active in the movement for more than 30 years, it’s both a long-term goal and a practical policy program, calling for government investment in jobs, education, housing, health care—all the elements that are required for a productive and violence-free life. Abolition means not just the closing of prisons but the presence, instead, of vital systems of support that many communities lack. Instead of asking how, in a future without prisons, we will deal with so-called violent people, abolitionists ask how we resolve inequalities and get people the resources they need long before the hypothetical moment when, as Gilmore puts it, they “mess up.”

A Jim Crow–Era Murder. A Family Secret. Decades Later, What Does Justice Look Like?
By Samantha Michaels, Mother Jones
Inside a movement to reinvestigate hundreds of racist killings. Joyce Faye Nelson-Crockett was 13 years old in 1955, dancing to a jukebox in the Hughes Cafe on a Saturday night in East Texas with her sister and her 16-year-old cousin, John Earl Reese. The boy had come home to the nearby town of Mayflower earlier that day after a summer away picking cotton, and he held Nelson-Crockett’s hand as he spun her around the room. All of a sudden, a sharp crack interrupted the music. Nelson-Crockett thought it was fireworks at first, until she heard a thud on the floor and noticed Reese lying there. Nelson-Crockett later learned that two white men shot through the cafe windows from their car because they were angry that local politicians had agreed to spend money on a school for Black kids.

Abolition Constitutionalism, Foreword
By Dorothy E. Roberts, Harvard Law Review
As Flowers v. Mississippi indicates, criminal procedure and punishment in the United States still function to maintain forms of racial subordination that originated with the institution of slavery—despite the dominant constitutional narrative that those forms of subordination were abolished. Key aspects of carceral law enforcement—police, prisons, and the death penalty—can be traced back to slavery and the white supremacist regime that replaced slavery after white terror nullified Reconstruction. Criminal punishment has been instrumental in reinstating the subjugated status of black people and preserving a racial capitalist power structure.

History of Capital Punishment
International and state information about the history of Capital Punishment (the Death Penalty) along with relevant academic readings.

Bail Reform

Before the Law
By Jennifer Gonnerman, The New Yorker
The case of Kalief Browder exemplifies what can go wrong with cash bail. In 2010 the Black teenager was arrested in the Bronx for allegedly stealing a backpack. He maintained his innocence, but his family could not afford bail. Represented by a public defender with an overwhelming caseload, Browder waited in the notoriously violent Rikers Island Jail. Browder spent three years in Rikers, much of it in solitary confinement to protect him from abusive prisoners. Browder’s case was eventually dismissed, but he suffered depression and PTSD. In 2015, after earning a GED and attending several semesters of college, Browder killed himself. New York City paid his family $3 million in 2019 to settle a wrongful death and civil rights violation lawsuit. His original bail was $3,000.

Bail reform, which could save millions of unconvicted people from jail, explained
By Stephanie Wykstra, Vox
Hundreds of thousands of legally innocent people languish in jails on any given day simply because they can’t afford bail. California passed legislation in August 2018 to get rid of money bail, joining the wave of states and local jurisdictions that have undertaken some form of bail reform over the past few years.

Sexual Violence

Survivor Protection: Reducing the Risk of Trauma to Child Sex Trafficking Victim
By Rights 4 Girls
Domestic child sex trafficking is a persistent problem in the United States. Under federal law, child sex trafficking occurs any time a minor under the age of eighteen is induced to perform a commercial sex act. Historically, domestic victims have received gravely insufficient protection and support due to a lack of awareness about domestic trafficking and the hidden nature of this crime. When information about human trafficking first gained traction in the US, it was commonly believed that sex trafficking victims were primarily foreign nationals. However, according to the US Department of Justice, from January 2008 to June 2010, eighty-three percent of confirmed sex trafficking victims identified in the US were citizens, and approximately fifty-four percent were minors under the age of eighteen. Despite these children being subjected to violence, manipulation, and torture, the public still viewed victims of domestic child sex trafficking as criminals willingly engaged in prostitution, rather than as victims of violence and exploitation.

Comprehensive Services For Survivors of Sexual Violence
By Kelly Wilt, Resource Sharing Project, A publication of the Sexual Assault Demonstration Initiative
Community-based sexual assault service programs have the unique ability to support survivors at all stages of the healing process with wide-ranging services and foundational values of advocacy that aspire to validate, believe, and empower survivors. These programs listen to survivors, support their strengths, and offer hope.

Ateya's Story
By Juvenile Film
Born in the Bronx and raised in Brooklyn, Ateya experienced loss, abuse, and trauma at a young age. Through ITM and other credible messenger programs she has parlayed her past into helping others.

What One Woman’s Story Reveals about the Music Industry
By Hannah Giorgis
HBO Max’s Documentary “On the Record” details sexual-assault allegations against the rap mogul Russell Simmons—and homes in on the lives derailed by sexism. The film focuses chiefly on expert Drew Dixon, a former music executive who worked with Def Jam Recordings co-founder Russell Simmons in the ’90s and publicly accused him of rape in December 2017. (Simmons, who has now been accused of sexual misconduct by at least 16 women, has denied all allegations of assault.)

Facts & Figures
on Youth Justice in the US

The average state cost for the secure confinement of a young person is now $588 per day, or $214,620 per year, a 44 percent increase from 2014. These cost figures over a six-year period represent the growing economic impact of incarcerating youth. However, the long-term impact of these policies extends well beyond the fiscal cost. Source: Justice Policy Institute report: Sticker Shock 2020: The Cost of Youth Incarceration

Juvenile facilities, including 1,510 detention centers, residential treatment centers, group homes, and youth prisons held 36,479 youths as of October 2019. Source: The Sentencing Project with data primarily from National Center for Juvenile Justice report: Black Disparities in Youth Incarceration

Did you know that 30% of children deprived of liberty have experienced a brain injury at some point in their life? Children in criminal justice systems are more likely to suffer from neuro-disabilities. Source: Penal Reform report: Brain science and how it affects children accused of crimes

On any given day, an estimated 60,000 youth are confined in juvenile detention and correctional facilities; hundreds of thousands more are on probation. In addition, an estimated 200,000 youth under age 18 are sent into the adult criminal justice system each year, often for misdemeanor offenses. Incarceration can yield disastrous results for their long-term rehabilitation and future.
Source: Opportunity Nation, The Source for Youth Investment: Youth Justice

Re-thinking Truancy: Almost 1,500 young people were detained and 736 were incarcerated in long-term facilities in 2018. Skipping school was their most serious offense. Source: Justice Center The Council for State Governments report: Rethinking Juvenile Justice and Schools

Between 1907 and 1979, more than 64,000 Americans were forcibly sterilized by state and local governments. California sterilized at least 20,000 people, far more than any other state. Most, but not all, of those sterilized were poor; most were White, though historians say racism and white supremacy were still driving motivators of these programs. Source: Washington Post: Britney Spears, Carrie Buck and the awful history of controlling ‘unfit’ women

Over the past quarter-century, there has been a profound change in the involvement of women within the criminal justice system. This incarceration of women and girls is the result of more expansive law enforcement efforts, stiffer drug sentencing laws, and post-conviction barriers to reentry that uniquely affect women. The female incarcerated population stands over seven times higher than in 1980. More than 60% of women in state prisons have a child under the age of 18. Though just 15% of incarcerated youth are girls, they make up a much higher proportion of those arrested for the lowest level offenses: thirty-six percent of status offenses (such as truancy and curfew violations) and more than half for running away are girls. Overall, one-third of incarcerated girls are held for status offenses or for violating the terms of their probation. Source: The Sentencing Project report: Incarcerating Girls and Women

Despite long-term declines in youth incarceration, the disparity at which black and white youth are held in juvenile facilities has grown. Black youth are more than four times as likely to be detained or committed in juvenile facilities as their white peers. Source: The Sentencing Project report: Black Disparities in Youth Incarceration

How Many Juveniles Are Confined in the U.S.? Every day, thousands of American youth are placed outside of the home in facilities across the country. Though these out-of-home placements hope to steer youth on the right path, it has been proven that treating a youth outside of their home and community is less effective than treating them in their natural settings. However, statistics show that the amount of youth in confinement is still high. Source: MST Services

Over the past 15 years, the number of incarcerated juveniles in the U.S. has plummeted from about 76,000 to fewer than 36,000. Youths who were once sent away to reformatories, training schools, and other large, prison-like facilities are increasingly being offered alternatives closer to home, such as electronic monitoring, probation and counseling. Still, about 80 of those big, aging institutions remain open for business. They’re harsh, dangerous and isolated—and may be around for a while. Source: The Marshall Project, There Are Still 80 ‘Youth Prisons’ in the U.S…Five Things to Know About Them

On any given day, nearly 60,000 youth under age 18 are incarcerated in juvenile jails and prisons in the United States. For each state, this map shows the number of youth incarcerated per 100,000 people. These rates vary widely. But in every state, confining young people –cutting them off from their families, disrupting their education, and often exposing them to further trauma and violence–harms their development and has lifelong negative consequences. Source: The ACLU report: America’s Addiction to Juvenile Incarceration: State by State

Census data show incarceration rates are down. It may have more to do with the pandemic than broad reforms. Nearly two million adults were incarcerated across the country, according to the 2020 Decennial Census. Each circle represents the incarcerated population in a county. Source: The Marshall Project, There Are Fewer People Behind Bars Now Than 10 Years Ago. Will It Last?

When assessing juvenile incarceration, it is crucial to consider that a majority of incarcerated youth is being held for nonviolent offenses and could be managed safely in the community. Research shows that incarceration consistently leads youth to reoffend, more frequently, and more seriously than less punitive dispositions. The Department of Justice’s data on US youth shows that the 12-month recidivism rate for youth on probation is 15% on average—much lower than the rate for juveniles released from incarceration. A longitudinal study of youth in New York, published in 2008, demonstrated extremely high recidivism rates for children coming from long-term confinement. As many as 89% of boys and 81% of girls from NY were re-arrested, and 85% of boys and 68% of girls were convicted as adults, by age 28. In adult facilities, the situation is similar. Source: Journal of Applied Research on Children: Informing Policy for Children at Risk article: Nothing About Us Without Us! The Failure of the Modern Juvenile Justice System and a Call for Community-Based Justice

Approximately 80,000 young people are released from juvenile justice facilities in the United States every year. More than half of released juveniles are rearrested within three years, and youth involved in the justice system can confront considerable challenges when they are released into their communities. Source: Urban Institute report: The Sustainability of Juvenile Programs beyond Second Chance Act Funding: The Case of Two Grantees

The United States spends up to $88,000 per year on each individual placed in a juvenile corrections facility. Therefore, prevention or early intervention programs that help young people avoid in¬volvement in the juvenile system in the first place offer a significant return on invest¬ment. From 2001 to 2010 boys’ arrest rates de¬creased by 26.5 percent, while girls’ arrest rates decreased by only 15.5 percent. Yet the current juvenile justice system is not well positioned to meet the particular needs of girls, as most services are rooted in research based on the needs of boys.
Source: MDRC Preventing Juvenile Justice Involvement for Young Women

Comparison of Arrests by Gender and Offense, 2007
Increasing attention has been drawn to a population previously overlooked in studies of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and that is youth involved with the juvenile justice system. Although prevalence rates vary, studies reveal that as many as 32% of boys and 52% of girls in detention settings meet DSM-IV criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD. Source: From internalizing to externalizing: Theoretical models of the processes linking PTSD to juvenile delinquency.

The U.S. makes up just 5 percent of the global population, yet nearly one-third of all the female prisoners in the entire world are here. There are more than 200,000 women and girls incarcerated nationwide, a number that has increased by more than 700 percent since 1980. Men still make up the vast majority of inmates, but women in prison face unique challenges. Most are mothers. Prisons limit or charge money for basics like tampons and pads. Women are also more likely to be sexually assaulted, particularly by guards. Source: The Marshall Project w/ Teen Vogue, What is Prison LIke for Women and Girls

Women and girls in prison: a comparison between the US and China From October 2020 to April 2021, Dui Hua has co-hosted the International Symposium on Girls in Conflict with the Law, an innovative online expert exchange on the unique problems and vulnerabilities girls face in justice systems worldwide. The Symposium events–as well as key research, resources, and information on the panelists–can be viewed online at Source: Dui Hua: Women in Prison

Black and American Indian youth are overrepresented in juvenile facilities, while white youth are underrepresented. These racial disparities are particularly pronounced among both Black boys and Black girls, and while American Indian girls make up a small part of the confined population, they are extremely overrepresented relative to their share of the total youth population. While 14% of all youth under 18 in the U.S. are Black, 42% of boys and 35% of girls in juvenile facilities are Black. And even excluding youth held in Indian country facilities, American Indians make up 3% of girls and 1.5% of boys in juvenile facilities, despite comprising less than 1% of all youth nationally. Source: Prison Policy Initiative: Youth Confinement: The Whole Pie 2019

Incarcerated girls have greater mental health needs. Some studies have shown that as many as 3 in 4 girls who are detained have a diagnosed mental health disorder. Approximately 70% have been exposed to a traumatic experience. Their rates for post-traumatic stress disorder, suicide attempts, and self-harming behavior are higher than those for boys. Source: National Library of Medicine Report: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Trauma in Youth in Juvenile Detention

Download the PDF

The New Jim Crow
By Michelle Alexander
As the United States celebrates the nation's "triumph over race" with the election of Barack Obama, the majority of young black men in major American cities are locked behind bars or have been labeled felons for life. Although Jim Crow laws have been wiped off the books, an astounding percentage of the African American community remains trapped in a subordinate status–much like their grandparents before them. PDF version
[Referred by expert Michelle Jones]

Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison
By Nell Bernstein
Bernstein introduces us to youth across the nation who have suffered violence and psychological torture at the hands of the state. She presents these youths all as fully realized people, not victims. As they describe in their own voices their fight to maintain their humanity and protect their individuality in environments that would deny both, these young people offer a hopeful alternative to the doomed effort to reform a system that should only be dismantled. Interwoven with these heartrending stories is reporting on innovative programs that provide effective alternatives to putting children behind bars.

The Lost Children of Wilder: The Epic Struggle to Change Foster Care
By Nina Bernstein
In 1973, a young ACLU attorney filed a controversial class-action lawsuit that challenged New York City’s operation of its foster-care system. The plaintiff was an abused runaway named Shirley Wilder who had suffered from the system’s inequities. Wilder, as the case came to be known, was waged for two and a half decades, becoming a battleground for the conflicts of race, religion, and politics that shape America’s child-welfare system.

Becoming Ms. Burton: From Prison to Recovery to Leading the Fight for Incarcerated Women
By Susan Burton, Cari Lynn and Michelle Alexander
Susan Burton’s world changed in an instant when her five-year-old son was killed by a van on their street in South Los Angeles. Consumed by grief and without access to professional help, Susan self-medicated, becoming addicted first to cocaine, then crack. As a resident of South L.A., an impoverished black community under siege by the War on Drugs, it was but a matter of time before Susan was arrested. She cycled in and out of prison for fifteen years; never was she offered therapy or treatment for addiction. On her own, she eventually found a private drug rehabilitation facility. [referred by expert Michelle Jones]

Beyond Bad Girls, Gender, Violence, and Hype
By Meda Chesney-Lind and Katherine Irwin
In this work, two respected criminologists challenge the characterization of the 'bad girl' arguing that it is only a new attempt to punish girls who are not the stereotypical depiction of ‘good.’ Through interviews with young women, educators and people in the criminal justice system, Beyond Bad Girls exposes the formal and informal systems of socio-cultural control imposed on girls.

Gender, Psychology, and Justice: The Mental Health of Women and Girls in the Legal System
By Corinne C. Datchi
A critical analysis of girls’ and women’s experiences in the justice system, this book reveals the practical implications of training and interventions grounded in psychological research, and suggests new principles for working with women and girls in legal settings.

The Real War on Crime: The Report of the National Criminal Justice
Edited by Steven R. Donziger
American penal reform movements have a long and distinguished history: that of middle-class activists working to check the excesses of the centralized state against the underclass. Some of the reformers had good hearts, some didn't. Either way, they're responsible for many of the most hellish elements of incarceration, from the penitentiary itself and solitary confinement to parole and the indeterminate sentence.

Heroes of Their Own Lives: The Politics and History of Family Violence–Boston, 1880-1960
By Linda Gordon
In this unflinching history of family violence, the historian Linda Gordon traces policies on child abuse and neglect, wife-beating, and incest from 1880 to 1960. Drawing on hundreds of case records from social agencies devoted to dealing with the problem, Gordon chronicles the changing visibility of family violence as gender, family, and political ideologies shifted.
[Referred by expert Nina Bernstein]

What's Wrong with Children's Rights
By Martin Guggenheim
The phrase “Children’s Rights” has been a legal battle cry for twenty-five years but, as this provocative book by a nationally renowned expert on children's legal standing argues, it is neither possible nor desirable to isolate children from the interests of their parents, or those of society as a whole.

Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments; Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women, and Queer Radicals
By Saidiya Hartman
Hartman examines the revolution of black intimate life that unfolded in Philadelphia and New York at the beginning of the twentieth century. In wrestling with the question of what a free life is, many young black women created forms of intimacy and kinship indifferent to the dictates of respectability and outside the bounds of law. Longing and desire fueled their experiments in how to live. They refused to labor like slaves or to accept degrading conditions of work. Here, for the first time, these women are credited with shaping a cultural movement that transformed the urban landscape.

Our Class: Trauma and Transformation in an American Prison
By Chris Hedges
A haunting and powerfully moving book that gives voice to the poorest among us and lays bare the cruelty of a penal system that too often defines their lives. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges has taught courses in drama, literature, philosophy, and history since 2013 in the college degree program offered by Rutgers University at East Jersey State Prison and other New Jersey prisons. In his first class at East Jersey State Prison, where students read and discussed plays by Amiri Baraka and August Wilson, among others, his class set out to write a play of their own. In writing the play, Caged, which would run for a month in 2018 and later be published, students gave words to the grief and suffering they and their families have endured, as well as to their hopes and dreams. The author talks about his work and the book in this talk organized by The Sanctuary.

Talk with You Like a Woman: African American Women, Justice, and Reform in New York, 1890-1935
By Cheryl D. Hicks
With this book, Cheryl Hicks brings to light the voices and viewpoints of black working-class women, especially southern migrants, who were the subjects of urban and penal reform in early-twentieth-century New York. Hicks compares the ideals of racial uplift and reform programs of middle-class white and black activists to the experiences and perspectives of those whom they sought to protect and, often, control.

After the Doors Were Locked, A History of Youth Corrections in California and the Origins of Twenty-First Century Reform
By Daniel E. Macallair, Introduction by Randall G. Shelden
Beginning in the 19th century, California followed national juvenile justice trends by consigning abused, neglected, and delinquent youth to congregate care institutions known as reform schools. These institutions were characterized by their emphasis on regimentation, rigid structure, and harsh discipline. Behind the walls of these institutions, children and youth, who ranged in age from eight to 21, were subjected to unspeakable cruelties. Despite frequent public outcry, life in California reform schools changed little from the opening of the San Francisco Industrial School in 1859 to the dissolution of the California Youth Authority (CYA) in 2005. After the Doors Were Locked is the first to chronicle the unique history of youth corrections and institutional care in California and analyze the origins of today’s reform efforts. This book offers valuable information and guidance to current and future generations of policymakers, administrators, judges, advocates, students and scholars.

Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in School
By Monique Morris
Explores the unique and disparate impacts that criminalizing conditions in learning institutions have on Black girls. At the core of Pushout’s analysis is the assertion that the mistreatment of Black girls is grounded in stigmatizing, historic perceptions of Black femininity. Throughout the book, Morris employs personal narratives of Black girls who have experienced school pushout to deconstruct conventional understandings of classroom behaviors and interactions that are often perceived to be troublesome, particularly when exhibited by Black girls, and which often lead to exclusionary disciplinary actions.

Losing Generations: Adolescents in High-Risk Settings
By the National Research Council
At least 7 million young Americans—fully one-quarter of adolescents 10 to 17 years old—may be at risk of failing to achieve productive adult lives. They use drugs, engage in unprotected sex, drop out of school, and sometimes commit crimes, effectively closing the door to their own futures. And the costs to society are enormous: school and social services are overwhelmed, and our nation faces the future with a diminished citizenry.

Delinquent Daughters: Protecting and Policing Adolescent Female Sexuality in the United States, 1885-1920
By Mary E. Odem
Delinquent Daughters explores the gender, class, and racial tensions that fueled campaigns to control female sexuality in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America. Odem traces two distinct stages of moral reform. The first began in 1885 with the movement to raise the age of consent in statutory rape laws as a means of protecting young women from predatory men. By the turn of the century, however, reformers had come to view sexually active women not as victims but as delinquents, and they called for special police, juvenile courts, and reformatories to control wayward girls. Rejecting a simple hierarchical model of class control, Odem reveals a complex network of struggles and negotiations among reformers, officials, teenage girls and their families. She also addresses the paradoxical consequences of reform by demonstrating that the protective measures advocated by middle-class women often resulted in coercive and discriminatory policies toward working-class girls.

The Child Savers: The Invention of Delinquency
By Anthony M. Platt
Anthony Platt's study, a chronicle of the child-saving movement and the juvenile court, explodes myth after myth about the benign character of both. The movement is described not as an effort to liberate and dignify youth but as a punitive, romantic, and intrusive effort to control the lives of lower-class urban adolescents and to maintain their dependent status. In so doing Platt analyzes early views of criminal behavior, the origins of the reformatory system, the social values of middle-class reformers, and the handling of youthful offenders before and after the creation of separate juvenile jurisdictions.

The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison: Ideology, Class and Criminal Justice
by Jeffrey Reiman and Paul Leighton
This text contends that the criminal justice system is biased against the poor from start to finish. The authors argue that even before the process of arrest, trial, and sentencing, the system is biased against the poor in what it chooses to treat as crime. The authors show that numerous acts of the well-off–such as their refusal to make workplaces safe, refusal to curtail deadly pollution, promotion of unnecessary surgery, and prescriptions for unnecessary drugs–cause as much harm as the acts of the poor that are treated as crimes. However, the dangerous acts of the well-off are almost never treated as crimes, and when they are, they are almost never treated as severely as the crimes of the poor. Not only does the criminal justice system fail to protect against the harmful acts of well-off people, it also fails to remedy the causes of crime, such as poverty.

Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence, and America's Prison Nation
By Beth E. Richie
Black women in marginalized communities are uniquely at risk of battering, rape, sexual harassment, stalking and incest. Through the compelling stories of Black women who have been most affected by racism, persistent poverty, class inequality, limited access to support resources or institutions, Beth E. Richie shows that the threat of violence to Black women has never been more serious, demonstrating how conservative legal, social, political and economic policies have impacted activism in the U.S.-based movement to end violence against women. Issues of sexuality, class, age, and criminalization are brought into focus–alongside questions of public policy and gender violence–resulting in a compelling critique, a passionate re-framing of stories, and a call to action for change.

Girls in Justice
By Richard Ross
With appallingly high rates of abuse in their histories, exploitation around every corner, and a very different set of needs once 'inside,' girls are brought into the juvenile justice system by a unique set of social forces and experience incarceration much differently than boys.

The Black Child-Savers: Racial Democracy and Juvenile Justice
By Geoff K. Ward
In the first study of the rise and fall of Jim Crow juvenile justice, Geoff Ward examines the origins and organization of a separate and unequal juvenile justice system. Ward explores how generations of “black child-savers” mobilized to challenge the threat to black youth and community interests and how this struggle grew aligned with a wider civil rights movement, eventually forcing the formal integration of American juvenile justice. Ward’s book reveals nearly a century of struggle to build a more democratic model of juvenile justice—an effort that succeeded in part, but ultimately failed to deliver black youth and community to liberal rehabilitative ideals.

Prison Nation: The Warehousing of America's Poor
By Paul Wright and Tara Herivel
"Every American with any concern for justice and democracy ought to read this devastating book–but not right before bedtime. Prison Nation is a true horror story, a profound revelation of what the prison system is doing both to millions of poor Americans trapped in its no-exit nightmare and to America itself. But it is also an inspiring book, bringing together some of the most important work by dozens of dedicated scholars and activists." H. Bruce Franklin, John Cotton Dana Professor of English and American Studies, Rutgers University

The Delinquent Girl
By Margaret Zahn
Over the past decade and a half, girls’ involvement in the juvenile justice system has increased. Yet the topic remains under-studied among criminologists. The Delinquent Girl is a "state-of-the-field" evaluation that identifies and analyzes girls who become delinquent, the kinds of crimes they commit and the reasons they commit them.

The Changing Legal World of Adolescence
By Franklin E. Zimring
The law often compartmentalizes underage persons with bright lines and legal fictions such as "parens patriae" to allow leeway for them that would not be tolerable for adults. The law creates huge divides based on status and age. The standards against which to judge the exit from adolescence are concrete and measurable: a single chronological age while an adult is anyone the state legislature defines as such. But life is not that simple and the price we pay for sustaining such illusions is considerable. Adolescence is both a period in itself and a transition. This book takes seriously that status and the idea of transition as it attempts to explain the legal responses and concepts relevant to this important stage of life.

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