Ending the Abuse to Prison Pipeline
The vast majority of girls in the youth legal system are arrested for nonviolent offenses such as truancy, running away, and alcohol and substance use—all behaviors that are strongly correlated with suffering and coping with trauma.
We know that when girls with economic or family stability are hurt by sexual violence, the protective layers of functional schools, safe neighborhoods, and access to mental health services tend to buffer them from further victimization. But for marginalized girls and young women, the experience of sexual abuse too often lands them behind bars. In fact, sexual abuse is a primary predictor for legal system involvement in girls. The connection between sexual violence in girls and their ultimate incarceration is not coincidental—sexual abuse is a direct, contributing cause of girls’ involvement in the legal system.
Rights4Girls has named this troubling trajectory for girls–and particularly girls of color: The Abuse to Prison Pipeline. We work to disrupt this harmful and unjust pathway to prison for girls by training judges and policymakers on the Abuse to Prison Pipeline, advocating for alternatives to detention for girls and young women, and promoting systems change that expressly contemplate girls and young women of color, especially those who have experienced violence or exploitation.
Learn more about the Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline: The Girls’ Story report and our work to dismantle this pattern of injustice for girls and women.
Improving Conditions of Confinement
Once girls become involved in the system, they must navigate a punitive system that is ill-equipped to address their needs. Once incarcerated, girls are subject to harmful and degrading conditions of confinement that often exacerbate their existing trauma. The traditional methods of asserting authority and order, isolation approaches, and severe discipline characterizing incarceration are inappropriate for girls given their abuse histories. Often, girls are subject to solitary confinement and restraints– practices that are especially injurious to victims of sexual and physical violence. Girls are strip searched throughout the duration of their confinement, including when returning from family visitation, after a medical visit, or at the completion of a work shift. Moreover, detention is not safe for girls. Girls consistently report being physically and sexually assaulted by staff and other youth while behind bars.
Finally, pregnant girls in detention are sometimes subject to shackling during transport, labor, or delivery. While there is limited data available on pregnant and parenting system-involved girls, a report by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency found that of the 1,000 girls participating in a statewide study, 16% had been pregnant while incarcerated. Of those girls who had been pregnant while in custody, 29% had been placed in physical restraints, including shackled at the wrists, belly and/or ankles, during labor, delivery and/or post-delivery.
Rights4Girls advocates for system reforms that center the specific needs of girls and young women, especially given their unique pathways into the system. We educate policymakers on the Abuse to Prison Pipeline and the need for a trauma-informed, gender-responsive, and culturally competent approaches that do not re-victimize or harm girls who have experienced violence or exploitation.