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October 09, 2020 National Conference of State Trial Judges

Girls and Girls of Color in the Criminal Justice System

By Hon. Rachel Kretser (Ret.), Albany, NY

In 1980, girls constituted approximately 11 percent of children in the juvenile justice system.  Four decades later, in 2020, that percentage has tripled.  Girls now account for almost one third of all juvenile arrests in the United States.  Equally significant is the fact that girls of color are 2.7 times more likely than their white counterparts to be referred to the juvenile justice system and 1.2 times more likely to be detained than white girls. Those startling statistics prompted the NYS Office of Court Administration 3rd JD Gender Fairness Committee, which I am honored to chair, and it's primary co-sponsor, the Permanent Commission on Justice For Children, to produce a CLE program entitled, "Girls and Girls of Color in the Criminal Justice System." That program, held virtually on June 16, examined racial and gender disparities in the Juvenile Justice System and explored possible solutions including an innovative approach recently implemented in New York's 9th J.D.

More than 300 judges and lawyers participated in the webinar which was co-sponsored by the National Conference of State Trial Judges, Albany Law School, Albany County Bar Association, National Association of Women Judges, New York State Bar and the Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York, among others.  Participants included New York Court of Appeals Judge Hon. Leslie Stein, Hon. Elizabeth Garry, Third Department Appellate Division Presiding Justice, and Hon. Marguerite Grays, President NAWJ (NY Chapter).

Panelists included former 3rd Dept. Appellate Division Presiding Justice and Chair of the Commission on Justice for Children, Hon. Karen K. Peters; 9th Judicial District Administrative Judge, Hon. Kathie Davidson; Supreme Court Justice Lisa Fisher; NYU Professor Dr.Shabnam Javdani and Doctoral Fellow, McKenzie Berizin.

The program could not have been more timely.  Recent events require us to face the harsh reality that we still do not live in an equitable world.  There is a heightened awareness of the need to address racial injustice and gender inequality in all forms.

After an in-depth discussion of the problem, the program presented possible solutions including an integrated approach utilized by a specialty court in Westchester known as the GRIP (Gender Responsive Initiatives and Partnerships) Court.  The GRIP Court is a dispositional court whose mission is to “promote healing and provide opportunities, justice and support to improve outcomes for girls, in particular for girls of color who are at risk or involved in the juvenile justice system.”  There, sensitized judges assigned to the court take a holistic approach by including all the various stakeholders—the presentment agency, the probation department, the attorney for the child and social workers—to attempt to understand each girl’s unique background and experiences with the goal of collaboratively determining the best form of intervention for that particular child. Although the GRIP Court has been in existence slightly less than a year, it is already showing promising results.  The girls are learning to trust members of the team assigned to their cases and to understand that everyone involved wants them to succeed.

Some participants in the CLE program expressed an interest in replicating the GRIP court in their regions. There was a sense of optimism that we are on the road to a better understanding of positive interventions that can address the disparities in justice experienced by girls and girls of color in the juvenile justice system.  The program was recorded and is available on You Tube.