Mariame Kaba, co-founder of the Taskforce and Founding Executive Director of Project NIA, offered testimony about issues impacting incarcerated girls. This outline of her testimony provides information as to the issues impacting incarcerated girls, as well as initial recommendations to the County.
At last count, Illinois was spending over $80,000 to incarcerate one youth per year. About 10,000 girls 10 to 16 years old are arrested every year in Illinois which amounts to about 20 to 22 percent of all of the arrests of the state. Girls are mostly arrested for nonviolent offenses. Girls are being incarcerated more often for trivial offenses such as:
- Technical violation of probation/parole
- Status offenses (truancy, runaway, incorrigibility)
- Larceny theft (shoplifting)
- Traffic offenses
- Drug offenses
About 30% of arrests of girls in Illinois are for violent offenses mostly aggravated battery. Many of these arrests take place on school grounds. On any given day in Illinois, we can find about 100 young women incarcerated at youth prisons and about 25-50 at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center.
Incarcerated Girls in Chicago and Illinois are:
- Likely to have run away from home – A 2004 study found that 8 out of 10 incarcerated girls had run away from home.
- More likely to suffer from tremendous emotional trauma (depression, anxiety disorders). Girls receive this diagnosis more frequently than boys.
- Abuse and Neglect Histories (The Girl Prison Pipeline): Likely to have suffered from physical and sexual abuse prior to incarceration. Compared to boys, girls experience more sexual victimization overall, including sexual assaults, rapes, and sexual harassment. All types of maltreatment can increase the risks for both sexes.
- Likely to suffer sexual abuse while in custody.
Health Issues of Girls In Trouble with the Law
- Suicide behavior is about 2.5 times greater than the general population.
- Substance abuse is high (mainly marijuana use)
- STDs, unplanned pregnancies, and dental problems.
- Support from a caring adult.
- School Success
Over the past 5 years, many improvements have been made at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. This is in large part due to the Court Advocates Group that was convened by the Health and Medicine Policy Research Group in 2002 and continues to this day. One major change came with the hiring in March 2009 of a director for a newly established Office of Gender Responsive Programming.
Other improvements include:
- The establishment of the W.I.N.G.S. Center (Working in Nurturing Girls Success) at the JTDC. This center serves to house girls and provide them with gender responsive services.
- The establishment of a better system for distributing personal hygiene items.
- A concerted effort to reach out to the community to provide more gender-specific programming to girls on the inside.
As such, what I want to focus on today on some recommendations that focus on the prevention side and the post-incarceration or re-entry needs for girls in trouble with the law.
- Prevention – We need to address the Girl Prison Pipeline and to do that we need to do a much better job of addressing the trauma that girls face BEFORE they come into contact with the system. Keep them out of the system since we know the incarceration DOES NOT WORK. It is a pathway to future involvement in the adult criminal legal system. This means providing ADEQUATE RESOURCES for anti-violence programs in schools and community settings.
- We need county backing for keeping youth OUT of the Juvenile Justice System by providing funding and support for restorative justice programs and other alternatives to incarceration.
- We need help and support to address the re-entry needs of formerly incarcerated girls (emergency funds, housing, employment training, counseling support).
- The County needs to develop a pool of resources specifically dedicated to the re-entry needs of all formerly incarcerated youth. The County can begin by providing community-based organizations with access to FREE SPACE to create a centrally-located re-entry drop in center for youth in trouble with the law. This can allow us to address the recidivism issue.
- The County needs to make it easier and cheaper for young women to expunge their juvenile criminal records. One way to do this is to revert back to the 2009 fee structure for filing juvenile expungement petitions.
The Chicago Taskforce on Violence against Girls will be developing a series of other recommendations in the near future. However these recommendations that I have shared today can be implemented immediately by the County.