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Blind Discretion: Girls of Color and Delinquency in the Juvenile Justice System

The juvenile justice system was designed to empower its decisionmakers with a wide grant of discretion in hopes of better addressing youth in a more individualistic and holistic, and therefore more effective, manner. Unfortunately for girls of color in the system, this discretionary charter given to police, probation officers, and especially judges has operated without sufficiently acknowledging and addressing their unique position. Indeed, the dearth of adequate gender/race intersectional analysis in the research and the stark absence of significant system tools directed at the specific characteristics of and circumstances faced by girls of color have tracked alarming trends such as the rising number of girls in the system and the relatively harsher punishment they receive compared to boys for similar offenses. This willful blindness must stop. This Article discusses the history and modern status of the juvenile justice system as it relates to girls of color, showing how it does not, in fact, relate to girls of color. There is hope, however. This Article concludes with policy recommendations, focusing on practical solutions and tools that will help decisionmakers exercise their considerable discretion to serve, rather than disserve, girls of color. The message to system actors is simple: Open your eyes! We owe that to our girls.