President Obama, in his remarks after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, asked what we could do as a nation to “learn some lessons from this and move in a positive direction?” One of his thoughts was to “spend some time thinking about how we bolster our African American boys.” Many, especially in the African American community, agree with him. In fact some see the Martin case as an opportunity for a national discussion about young Black males and the justice system. Certainly a national focus on young African American males is overdue, particularly given their over-representation in the delinquency system.
However, as we look for strategies to “bolster” Black boys, it’s important to acknowledge that African American girls are the fastest growing segment of the juvenile justice system, and need just as much attention.
A recent report by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) shows that while males still dominate the justice system, the caseload for girls has grown significantly — from 20 percent of all juvenile arrests in 1980 to 30 percent in 2009. Girls of color make up nearly two-thirds of the female juvenile justice population. In fact, according OJJDP research, the average girl in the system is between 15 to 16 years old; lives in an urban environment with one parent and is a girl of color. Experts agree that the increase in girl offenders over the past several decades is not due to a “girls gone wild” phenomenon. Girls still commit far fewer violent crimes than boys. More girls are ending up in court because of policies and policing practices such as zero tolerance in schools and state statutes against domestic violence that now encompass minor-age victims and offenders and result in mandatory arrests.
Also, according to a study by the Georgetown Center on Poverty, Inequality and Public Policy, girls are far more likely than boys to be detained for non-serious offenses such as truancy, running away and underage drinking or technical probation violations, such as missing a meeting with a probation officer or violating curfew.