Testimony on “School-to-Prison Pipeline”
Delivered August 6, 2020, to Joint Hearing of Committee on Public Safety and Courts of Justice Committee
The Virginia Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) – the nation’s largest feminist advocacy organization – welcomes this opportunity to submit comments on the impact on women and girls of racial inequities in the criminal justice system. We represent more than 5,000 members and supporters throughout the Commonwealth, dedicated to advancing equal rights and gender equity. We commend the House leadership for holding these hearings and emphasize the pressing need to address the impact of racism in our justice system on women and girls of color. The impact of the school-to-prison pipeline and the abuse-to-prison pipeline on girls and young women is one of the most critical priorities.
A 2008 U.S. Department of Justice study showed that the increased arrest and incarceration of girls over the past 20 years has not been the result of increased criminal activity or violence. Instead, more girls are being arrested and incarcerated because of the aggressive enforcement of non-serious offenses, many of which stem from abuse and trauma.
The Virginia Legal Aid Justice Center reported in 2015 that “Resource starvation, unaddressed academic failure, suspension and expulsion, and school policing are pushing students out of school and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.” The impact on Black students was much greater than on White students; however, there was no data on gender disparities.
The National YWCA, which is dedicated to serving women and girls, reported in a briefing paper that "From police responses to domestic violence and threats in their homes and neighborhoods, to the policing of pregnancy and motherhood, to their experiences of 'driving while female,' girls and women of color experience criminalization and racial profiling by law enforcement in ways that are overlooked by the current policy narrative." [Source: We Deserve Safety - Ending the Criminalization of Women & Girls of Color, 2017]
Also in 2015, a major report by Georgetown University and others stated that “the girls’ sexual abuse to prison pipeline” cuts across every divide of race, class, and ethnicity and especially criminalizes girls of color. "The facts are staggering: one in four American girls will experience some form of sexual violence by the age of 18. ..And in a perverse twist of justice, many girls who experience sexual abuse are routed into the juvenile justice system because of their victimization. Indeed, sexual abuse is one of the primary predictors of girls’ entry into the juvenile justice system."
The organization Justice Forward Virginia, writing about school resource officers and the funneling of children from the school system to the criminal legal system (the “school-to-prison pipeline”), says:
"The data suggests …that the presence of police in schools leads to the overcriminalization of youthful behavior. ..The most striking data related to Black girls, who made up 17% of the school population, but made up 43% of the students arrested or referred to law enforcement for prosecution."
We need a comprehensive legal approach to decriminalizing behaviors in school that will dismantle the “school-to-prison pipeline” and the “abuse-to-prison pipeline” that applies to girls and young women. Virginia NOW asks the General Assembly to make this a priority.