The Early Criminalization of Black Girls and the School-To-Prison Pipeline by Dr. Tamika Thomas and Dr. Ella Macklin

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh studied the suspension rates in the Pittsburgh Public School district. Findings show that black girls in the district are “three times more likely to be suspended from school compared to their white female counterparts” (University of Pittsburgh, 2018). The higher suspension rates often leads to increased interactions with the juvenile justice system; and later, adult correctional facilities. The school-to-prison pipeline is real for black girls, whereas, white young female counterparts who commit the same negative behaviors are not criminalized at the same rates. The report “Understanding and Addressing Institutionalized Inequity: Disrupting Pathways to Juvenile Justice for Black Youth in Allegheny County” is included in a New Pittsburgh Courier article. African American girls are 10xs more likely to be criminalized than their white counterparts. The Criminalization of Black Girls in Allegheny County is Real by Rob Taylor, Jr. is a must-read. There is a renewed effort to stop black girls from being victims of the school-to-prison pipeline. Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls In Schools is an excellent documentary with eye-opening statistics and viable programs to help black girls. This program sheds light on some of the issues that many African American female students are facing at home and in their communities which manifests negative behaviors in classrooms. Concerned parents, educators, community members can be encouraged through the solutions offered in this documentary. For further study, read the book Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls In Schools (2016) by Dr. Monique W. Morris. It is a compelling call to action with more solutions to address this devastating problem.

If caring individuals in schools and law enforcement intervene before negative behaviors escalate then, at-risk black girls may be prevented from entering the adult prison system. The answer to this problem is rooted in the development of more prevention training programs in schools, after-school programs and nonprofit organizations dedicated to supporting black girls who are dealing with myriad issues related to discrimination, etc. When black girls act out they are basically told that they are too loud and aggressive. By not addressing the underlying causes of misbehavior they are subjected to misrepresentation and are vastly misunderstood by society-at-large. Mentoring programs are seeking to teach black girls how to communicate with the right tools to get their messages across in a respectful manner. Simultaneously, organizations are creating safe spaces for them to get a respite from familial and academic pressures while indulging in needed positive self-expression.

It is also necessary to expand professional development for school teachers, school counselors and officials who work in the child welfare/family division/juvenile justice systems. Black girls need to feel comfortable revealing their innermost thoughts and disclose maltreatment that has occurred or is currently happening. Included in this marginalized group are individuals who are part of the LGBTQIA+ community which makes them higher risks as targets for sex-trafficking. Moreover, improving the level of training will enable professionals who work with these black female youth better able to recognize signs of abuse for early identification of issues and treatment for these victims. For example, the hidden signals of sex-trafficking, drug-trafficking and other forms of exploitation must be seen early to halt further detrimental involvement. The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime is one of a number of funding sources to researchers, task forces and service providers across the United States to fight human trafficking among other offenses. Through the combined efforts of training for professionals, organizational support for black girls and community leaders speaking out on their behalf, the criminalization of black girls can be eradicated.

About the authors: Dr. Tamika Thomas is the President/CEO and teacher at the Steps of Faith Tutoring & Enrichment Center (SOFT&EC). With many years of experience, Dr. Thomas is also a general education teacher in a public school. Dr. Ella Macklin is the Program Developer/Evaluator and teacher at SOFT& EC. Dr. Macklin has many years as a special education services coordinator and teacher in a public school. She is also an education consultant.

Morris, M. (2016). Pushout: The criminalization of black girls in schools. New York, NY: The New Press.

Report finds Black girls in Pittsburgh are 10 times more likely than white girls to be referred to juvenile justice. Why and what can be done?