Everyone, regardless of their race, place, or income, deserves equal treatment under the law and rules that govern our country and our institutions. Yet this is far from the reality in Ohio, particularly for Black Ohioans.
Many of our nation’s institutions, public policies, and even its founding have protected a culture of systemic racism and perpetuated racial injustice, thereby holding back, harming, and killing Black people. Within our criminal justice and legal system, there is a history of systemic racism embedded into the institutions, and that was not done by accident. Today, many individuals who control these systems continue to uphold these racist and discriminatory structures.
Our criminal justice and legal systems have dangerous and deadly impacts on Black women and girls: in schools where Black girls are over-policed and experience higher rates of discipline; in prisons where Black are overrepresented and where women overall receive harsher punishments for minor violations compared to men; and in communities where law enforcement profiles, abuses, sexually assaults, and kills Black women at alarming rates.
The evidence regarding the mistreatment of Black women, especially Black trans women, in the criminal justice system is overwhelming. Today, women represent an increasing share of arrests and report much more use of force than they did twenty years ago. Data from 2015 found that 12 million women, on average, experience police-initiated contacts, which often include traumatic, violent, and harmful tactics such as searches and uses of force. In our criminal justice system, women are the fastest-growing prison population, and racially biased policies and our broken criminal justice system have contributed to the overrepresentation of Black women in prisons. In fact, while 1 in 111 white women spend time in prison, the likelihood of prison time is 1 in 45 for Latina women and 1 in 18 for Black women.
Far too often, though, we fail to center the experiences of Black women and girls when calling for change in conversations around law enforcement violence, mass incarceration, and criminal justice. Our new project, The Justice Agenda for Black Women and Girls, looks to play a role in closing that gap in criminal justice reform efforts. We will directly, and solely, focus on the ways in which Black women and girls are disproportionately and disparately impacted by criminal and justice systems and current justice-centered policies.
This project will not only conduct research into policies passed and pending in the Ohio Statehouse that may harm or support Black women and girls, but it is also finding real solutions. In this program, we are exploring solutions to promote justice, developing messaging materials to amplify our findings, and engaging in public education efforts around the issue, our findings, and our recommendations.
And, by engaging with a broad range of organizations and community partners, we will have in-depth perspectives on issues faced by Black girls within schools, domestic violence survivors, incarcerated mothers, and more. The voices of community members with lived experience within the areas we are researching is invaluable in moving this work forward. Throughout the course of this program, we truly have the ability to confront, address, and change our current systems to better serve Black women and girls in Ohio. To stay up to date on this project, sign up for our general Innovation Ohio emails.