Black females represent the fastest growing segment of the juvenile justice population

November 13, 2012
Open Society Foundations
Expand the School to Prison Pipeline Conversation to Include Black Girls

October 5, 2012   by Monique Morris

Black females represent the fastest growing segment of the juvenile justice population. Black females also experienced the most dramatic rise in middle school suspension rates in recent years. Six-year old girls have been arrested in Georgia and Florida for having a tantrum in class. A 13-year old girl near Chicago was charged with a felony theft offense after finding her teacher’s glasses and seeking to return them to her, and a Los Angeles high school girl was slammed to the floor of her school and arrested after dropping a piece of cake on the floor.

From these and other incidents in recent years, it has become increasingly clear that punitive disciplinary practices and other criminalizing policies that fuel what we understand as a “school to prison pipeline” impact the girls as well as the boys. However, a deeper look reveals that perhaps the “pipeline” analogy is too linear a framework to capture the education-system pathways to incarceration for black girls.

In discussions with young women who have dropped out of school, or who are attempting to return to school following a period of incarceration, it is becoming clearer that we must think about the multiple ways in which racism and patriarchy marginalize black girls in their learning environments—places that have become hostile learning environments for girls who are too frequently marginalized for acts of “defiance” or for being too “loud” and aggressive in ways that make them nonconforming to society’s gender expectations. For too many black girls, schools are places where they are subject to unwanted sexual harassment, where they are judged and punished for who they are, not necessarily for what they have done, and where their experiences have been overshadowed by a male-dominated discourse on dignity in schools.

In a recent focus group on the subject, a young woman spoke of dropping out of school after she noticed that her teachers were more likely to help the males than the females. She and other young women described scenarios where school faculty would positively intervene when their male counterparts failed to complete assignments or attend class. These teachers seemed determined to “save” the boys; but when girls behaved in similar ways, the young women described how they were met with harsh, exclusionary punishment or no response at all.

To this point a young woman stated, “They don’t care about us.” She lowered her head and stared blankly at the table in front of her, visibly convinced that there were few people who cared about what happened to her or others like her.

Unlike this young woman, I am not convinced that people don’t care. Educators and other stakeholders are typically in this field because they care very deeply for our young people. I believe the problem might be a structural one.

"women in prison"

The “pipeline” framework, as I argue in Race, Gender, and the “School to Prison Pipeline”: Expanding Our Discussion to Include Black Girlswas largely developed from the conditions and experiences of males. As such, it may limit our ability to see the ways in which black girls are affected by instruments of surveillance (i.e., zero tolerance policies, law enforcement in schools, metal detectors, etc.), and the ways in which advocates, scholars, and community stakeholders may have wrongfully masculinized black girls’ experiences, leaving them without a proper understanding or articulation of the relationships between educational and other factors that are associated with their paths toward incarceration.

We cannot focus exclusively on the conditions of males and hope to impact the experiences of females. Instead, we need a robust conversation about how to reduce the criminalization of black females and males in our nation’s learning environments. We must infuse our analysis of “school to prison” pathways with the experiences of black girls, such that we can provide for and inform efforts to interrupt the “school to prison” pathways for all youth.

Monique W. Morris is a Soros Justice Fellow.

Race, Gender, and the “School to Prison Pipeline”: Expanding Our Discussion to Include Black Girls is the first in a series of reports from the author addressing the education-system factors associated with the disproportionate confinement of African American girls.

10 Responses to Black females represent the fastest growing segment of the juvenile justice population

  1. Iya Adjua on November 13, 2012 at 3:40 pm


    I appreciate your article and am interested in the entire series for research I’m doing based on my own work with African American females. A majority of the popular information on the incarceration of the African American community focuses African American male. Clearly this “problem” will not be resolved unless the entire community is acknowledged as a part of the whole situation.
    Iya Adjua, PhD

  2. Rev. James Wilkes on November 13, 2012 at 8:02 pm

    I agree racism does have a lot to do with it. Just look at the results of President Obama being re elected. There are likeness of him being hung, people openly wanting to be killed! Yet they are climing not to be racist! Get Real! Then others are wanting you to sign a petition to with draw from the United States. Then you have that pizza man, among others, stating that because Obama won re-election they would cut back on the hours of their workers who make very little just to get the ones on the top rich! This prover racism is very alive today & not just in the south! Check my postings on Fcebook under James A Wilkes of ATL

  3. Peter D.Slaughter on November 13, 2012 at 11:02 pm

    This is what happening to both males and females.
    Both gender groups are being bombarded,programmed with these images of self destruction and excessive materialism.
    Those who think it’s just entertainment do not know or really understand how negative images inculcate the mind and soul.
    If possible check out a classic lecture by Amos Wilson where he talks about an alien spirit attacking the minds and souls of black/afrikan people. ?? Where does the source of most of these self destructive images come from ? The media that we do not control at all

  4. Bishop Sam Wherry on November 14, 2012 at 3:08 am

    This situation is a mandate to Faith Base and Community Base Non Profit Organizations in Urban and Rural African Cities and Towns in the United States. It is beyond need and the demand is now in every arena and venue where Praise and Worship, Community Base Gatherings the After School and Summer Enrichment program started or else this epidemic will rapidly destroy the very being of African Americans in this Nation. There are two many available programs if our established Clergy and Lay leadership lay aside traditional personal agendas and begin the mission and purpose of the Faith Base and Community Base Organizations. It is our duty and mandate to develop and re-develop the existing African American Communities both Urban and Rural.

  5. Journal stat | Polinlawoffice on November 14, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    […] Black females represent the fastest growing … – Black Star Journal […]

  6. Brenda Boyd on November 14, 2012 at 6:07 pm

    As a Restorative Justice Practicioner and community mentor, I see way too often a system failing our young women. We must as a community (homes, schools, churches and organizations) stand up for change. It is the same as if you don’t/didn’t vote, your non-vote was a vote in itself. If we don’t step up and nurture our young ladies, advocate on their behalf, and let them know we care, the ripple effect will impact us all!

    Brenda Boyd
    Founder & President
    Sistahs S.T.R.O.N.G. Inc.
    Mentoring &

  7. Marcie on November 15, 2012 at 6:57 pm

    Can you add a Twitter button so I can tweet out stories? Everyone doesn’t hang out on Facebook.

  8. Lupe on November 17, 2012 at 4:00 am

    This has been an issue that needed to be addressed and is long overdue. Its unfortunate that the African American Community has failed to do something when the system began incarcerating our young men & boys. Not only are we, the community in worst shape than our forefathers, the majority seem to lack the motivation need to rectify what has, is and continues to happen.
    The truth of the matter is that our so called ‘leaders’ within the community assisted Bill Clinton when he put into place the very laws that keep us (those incarcerated) modern day slaves after completing their sentences or that unjustly hands down unfair sentences.
    Where is the outrage regarding locking up our young girls or minor issues; such as attempting to return glasses, dropping cake on the floor etc. DuPage/Kane Counties give out probation to Caucasians that do major crimes. For instance, check out last Thanksgiving Daily Herald (2011) article on an entire Caucasian family (mother, father & two children, ages 22 & 24) that was caught with a large quantity of drugs with the street value of a million dollars, with plans to distribute. The DA gave them probation with mandatory counseling and 30 hours of community service because the DA “didn’t want to ruin their life.”
    It is injustice such as this that we continue to ignore and turn a blind eye too, that keeps us mental slaves. The Hispanic community is fight back and just as we all united during this past election, WE should continue to unite together. As MLK said, over 50 years ago: “INJUSTICE ANYWHERE IS A THREAT TO JUSTICE EVERYWHERE.”
    Now is the time we have to STOP electing political officials just because they “look” like us, NONE OF OUR NEEDS HAVE BEEN MET, its evident with the condition of our community and our schools.

  9. […] at the hands of gun violence at a higher rate than their white male counterparts. Additionally Black Star Journal reported African American girls as representing the “fastest growing segment of the juvenile […]

  10. Dr. Gale Frazier on November 21, 2012 at 6:15 pm

    Some of us, such as the Black Star Project , are making a major impact/difference in the lives of our youth and young adults. I beleve all of these poignant realities as reflected in the above, are forcing us as a people to become radically involved in our approach and methodologies to impact the change we need to see. It begins with the indiviudal. We can never expect others to do what we do not do for ourselves. The Black Agenda incorporates the needs and mandates of Black people. We must move forward in unity, strength, and power. As a collective, we must never relent in the fight to save our people. Are we ready to engage is the question?

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