Multiple, intersecting factors contribute to the over-representation of youth of color, including Black girls, in the juvenile justice system, and specifically, in confinement. This study examined the self-identified, educational experiences of Northern California Black girls in confinement. This phenomenological study found that Black girls in trouble with the law experience a history of exclusionary discipline and poor relationships with schools that are exacerbated by the absence of a learning environment in confinement that emphasizes their ability to build positive relationships with teachers and each other. The study also found that the use of exclusionary discipline was heightened in the juvenile court school, largely for infractions unrelated to girls posing a threat to physical safety. This investigation also uncovered policy and infrastructure development opportunities that may facilitate a repair the relationship between Black girls and school.

Key Take Away Points

  • Black girls in the juvenile court school at the center of this inquiry view education as important, but they are not engaged by the curriculum.
  • Black girls in confinement have a history of being suspended and expelled from their district schools, and the use of exclusionary discipline becomes even more prevalent when they are in confinement.
  • Implementing a curriculum and practice that is responsive to the girls' career goals and instruction needs may repair the girls' severed relationships with school.
  • Juvenile court schools are an important component of the "opportunity to learn" framework that is designed to interrupt school-to-confinement pathways.

Author Biography

Monique W. Morris, Ed.D. is an author and social justice scholar with more than 20 years of experience in the areas of social and economic justice, education, and juvenile justice. Dr. Morris is the Co-Founder of the National Black Women’s Justice Institute and a lecturer for St. Mary’s College of California and The University of San Francisco. She is the author of Black Stats: African Americans by the Numbers in the Twenty-First Century (The New Press, 2014), Too Beautiful for Words: A Novel, 10th Anniversary Edition (MWM Books, 2011) and a forthcoming book on the criminalization of Black girls in schools. For more information, visit moniquewmorris.com and follow Dr. Morris on Twitter @MoniqueWMorris.


The author would like to acknowledge the support of this research by the Open Society Foundations Soros Justice Fellowship and The Akonadi Foundation. The author would also like to extend an appreciation to the young women who participated in this study.