Webinar presenters Cherice Hopkins and Rebecca Burney answered a number of your questions after their presentation, Intersectionality, and Reducing Girls Justice System Involvement. Here are just a few of their responses.
Audience Question: Can you share a little bit more about what status offenses mean again?
Cherice Hopkins: Yes, so status offenses are those behaviors that essentially you can only get in trouble for if you’re under the age of 18. For example, if I were to leave my home and decide not to come back, no one’s – it’s okay because I’m an adult. Whereas if someone under the age of 18 leaves their home, it’s considered running away. Or missing school, you know, if I have classes and I don’t go then I just changed my mind. If someone under the age of 18 refuses to go to school then that’s truancy. Other examples would be a curfew. So again, it’s really tied to those behaviors that are prohibited for people under the age of 18.
Audience Question: Even with Safe Harbor laws, are you still seeing minors being arrested and criminally charged with prostitution?
Cherice Hopkins: Short answer is yes. Anecdotally there are definitely partners in different states who are saying that even with Safe Harbor laws children are still being arrested. I think prime example, I don’t know if you all heard of Alexis Martin in Ohio, but she’s a survivor who was recently released from prison. This is a little bit of a different analogy because her arrest wasn’t for prostitution charges, but she was still arrested for something that was directly tied to her being a trafficking survivor and no one raised the Safe Harbor Law in her case. So that’s a recent example, but yes, unfortunately, there are even in places where there are no safe harbor laws. The laws may vary, maybe you can’t be arrested on prostitution charges or maybe it’s prostitution charges and offenses related to trafficking. In some cases, you can still be arrested but you can potentially go through a diversion program, or in some other cases, there’s a prohibition on any type of arrest or prosecution. But again, whatever the laws on the books it all comes down to implementation and sadly, increasingly, we’re hearing that not all states that have Safe Harbor laws are following through on the implementation.
Rebecca Burney: Also if you don’t mind if I might add really briefly to that. So what we see is that a lot of youth end up in the juvenile justice system for charges that are related to their trafficking but aren’t necessarily prostitution charges. So for example in DC we have Safe Harbor laws, but I can tell you right now that half of the girls who are incarcerated are confirmed, trafficking survivors. So what types of charges are girls entering the system for? Oftentimes, simple assault is a very common one. I realized I didn’t answer the question earlier, but the definition of simple assault varies by jurisdiction, however, typically it’s when you attempt to cause somebody harm. And so we see many girls who are fighting with buyers who are extra abusive, or getting in fights with their exploiters. You also see theft, petty theft. Things like that can cause girls to end up in the system, things like running away because they don’t feel safe at home. Like those are all reasons that girls end up into the system. They’re often more vulnerable because they’re trafficking survivors, but they’re commonly picked up on charges that are not prostitution offenses.
Cherice Hopkins: Thank you, Rebecca. That’s a great point.
Audience Question: Can you define the term girls of color? Does it refer to anyone who is not white and includes Native Americans?
Rebecca Burney: Yeah, it does. So when we talk about girls of color we include Native Americans and anyone that is identifying as not white. I will say, unfortunately, data of Native American Youth is often limited and not collected in ways we would like. Typically, you know, they’re definitely included in that category.
Audience Question: In this time of most states having a stay-at-home order. Have you noticed an increase, a decrease, or maybe more stable numbers of youth being detained?
Rebecca Burney: I think I can take that one. We’ve actually been working really hard to get youth released from Juvenile Detention facilities in the wake of this pandemic. Most girls are arrested for simple assaults and other misdemeanors. Many girls are incarcerated for offenses that are no danger to society. So we’ve been working to get kids released and we are seeing there hasn’t been an increase in arrests because of kids being home. I don’t necessarily know if they’re getting into less trouble but we do know at least in DC that police officers are not making arrests unless absolutely necessary. Prosecutors are not charging unless absolutely necessary and really at least here that decision comes down to whether are they a threat to public safety. If they’re not it’s usually more of a slap on the wrist, you know, they have youth that are – that would be incarcerated but are currently at home with ankle monitors because they aren’t a threat to Public Safety and we don’t want them to be exposed to the virus while in detention. So our numbers have gone down. I don’t know about other jurisdictions.
Cherice Hopkins: Yes, in other jurisdictions I think it really varies because different jurisdictions are having different approaches and responses. Another thing I want to flag is that advocates are asking communities to be mindful of is how are our responses impacting girls, children of color, especially considering their experiences as survivors of violence. For example, in some have curfews but if you’re experiencing violence in the home, that’s probably the time where you’re going to try to get away because you maybe you feel like your chances are best. There have been stories of people reaching out to law enforcement about girls of color because they’re being told they look suspicious but they’re just wearing their masks and doing things for health reasons. So I think that is also about whether our efforts to make sure that youth aren’t detained because of health concerns. There are some new concerns that are arising as a result of the virus too.
Audience Question: Liza says that she agrees that often female youth are held in custody because of concerns regarding their own safety rather than risks of them being a harm or safety risks to the community. So for girls that are in some kind of danger either untreated mental health issues, they are runaways, etc. and are non-compliant with community-based treatment attempts. What alternatives can you suggest to keep them safe without having to keep them in custody?
Cherice Hopkins: I think that’s a great question and I think that goes back to our recommendation about having multiple stakeholders at the table–having the youth their families and different actors who are involved with the youth. It really I think depends, and to the extent it can be an individualized response to really get at what’s going on with those youth is helpful. What we found is often times when girls are having a hard time staying with the program, it’s probably because they have experienced some sort of abuse or trauma. So it takes a while to build up that trust. But one thing that we’ve seen that can be helpful is if the program involves survivors or someone older who has been through something similar to what the young person has been through because then they feel like there’s someone that they can connect to who is not just telling them things but who has actually lived it themselves. So having that type of mentorship support can be one way of being able to help reach that youth.
Audience Question: Okay and the last question is are you aware of any plans to conduct longitudinal studies to examine outcomes of girls who are processed through the juvenile justice system?
Cherice Hopkins: I can’t say that I’m aware of any. Rebecca, are you aware of any?
Rebecca Burney: No, I’m not. I mean, I think that would be wonderful if there was more of a focus. I would love to see sort of a national focus just to look at all of the data from across jurisdictions, but for now, I only know of specific jurisdictions doing studies on girls.
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