Much of the discussion about the school to prison pipeline focuses on the plight of young men of color (particularly black boys). This is understandable given the dire statistics that illustrate how susceptible they are to being pushed out of school into future incarceration. The most often cited statistic is that 1 out of 3 black boys born in 2001 is likely to spend part of his life in prison.
However young women are also impacted by the school to prison pipeline. Their trajectory is different. Incarcerated girls are often victims of sexual and physical abuse in their early lives, and this is often neither recognized nor identified by school officials or other adults.
Sociologist Beth Richie has made the case that a key to understanding and responding to women as offenders is understanding their status as crime victims. Laurie Schaffner (2007) extends this argument by suggesting that “young women adjudicated delinquent in juvenile court report suffering inordinate amounts of emotional, physical, and sexual trauma in early childhood and adolescence.” She contends that “a disproportionate number of girls come into the juvenile justice system with family histories of physical and sexual violence and emotional neglect” (p.1229).
Many of the problems that young women face that relate to school failure and potential future incarceration stem from physical and sexual abuse. This has led some to characterize the experience of interpersonal violence as a “Girl Prison Pipeline.” In order to interrupt the girl prison pipeline then, particular attention must be paid to the physical and sexual abuse histories of young women.
Over the last few years, black girls in particular have been increasingly subjected to harsh disciplinary policies that push them out of school. A new report, Unlocking Opportunity for African American Girls: A Call to Action for Educational Equity, released a couple of weeks ago suggests that:
“In the 2011-12 school year, 12 percent of all African American female pre-K-12 students were suspended from school, six times the rate of white girls and more than any other group of girls and several groups of boys – despite research showing that African American children do not misbehave more frequently than their peers.”
Girls of color and particularly black girls are increasingly pushed out of school and criminalized. But this story is not a new one. You can read about a young woman named Dorothy Young’s story here, for example. Also watch this video about Kiera Wilmot’s more recent incident:
Further Reading and Resources
Disciplining Violence by Connie Wun
Girls in the System by Rachel Marie-Crane Williams
Unlocking Opportunity for African American Girls: A Call to Action for Educational Equity by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF)
Race, Gender and the School-to-Prison Pipeline: Expanding Our Discussion to Include Black Girls by Monique Morris (2012)
School to Prison Pipeline for Girls: The Role of Physical and Sexual Abuse by Sandra B. Simkins, Amy E. Hirsch, Erin McNamara Horvat, and Marjorie B. Moss
 Research on Women and Girls in the Justice System: Plenary Papers of the 1999 Conference on Criminal Justice Research and Evaluation – Enhancing Policy and Practice through Research, Volume 3. (September 2000). Office of Justice Programs. NCJ 180973.
 Schaffner, Laurie. 2007. Violence Against Girls Provokes Girls’ Violence: From Private Injury to Public Harm. Violence against Women, volume 13 no. 12. Pp.1229-1248.