Girls Health Screen Installed in San Joaquin County!

The National Girls Health and Justice Institute (NGHJI) and San Joaquin County Probation are on the threshold of a huge victory for California’s most vulnerable girls — incarcerated teen girls. On Friday, November 14, 2014, the Girls Health Screen (GHS) questionnaire was successfully tested inside the Stockton/San Joaquin Detention center holding girls. The GHS is now installed on beautiful, girl-friendly touch screen iPads, so that for the first time, young girls can easily — and privately — identify their unique health needs and get the help they need as soon as possible after they are locked up.

The GHS is the only research-based health and mental health questionnaire in the nation specifically designed to identify the medical needs of teen girls 11-17 who enter locked detention centers — most of which are designed to meet the larger population of boys. There are over 50 locked juvenile facilities holding girls in California and 2,800 nationwide. We hope that San Joaquin County, together with Los Angeles County — where the GHS will be installed in early 2015 — will be trailblazers for improving the delivery of medical care to every girl in the California Juvenile Justice System.

Studies have shown that teen girls who get locked up are among the sickest in the US and that meeting their medical needs can not only help them — and their children — lead healthier lives but can also reduce the likelihood that will get arrested again by 72%. By helping girls we are helping keep California communities safer and healthier now and for future generations — since 20 % of young incarcerated girls are pregnant or parenting.

In just two weeks, the GHS will be fully activated. This means that every teen girls who is arrested and brought to the Stockton detention facility will answer our electronic GHS very soon after they enter. Their answers will trigger immediate health and trauma treatment, and will yield important information on the health and trauma needs of this hidden population of girls.

We are deeply grateful to San Joaquin County Probation, Health and Behavioral Health for recognizing the needs of its most vulnerable girls, and embracing the Girls Health Screen project. We also thank The California Endowment, the Sierra Health Foundation and the Walter S. Johnson Foundation for helping to make the Girls Health Screen possible.

“Under Siege!” a Victory for Girls

GBBBeventOn Friday, November 14, NGHJI President and Founder Leslie Acoca attended a screening of “Under Siege! Our Baby Girls Are Going to Prison for Profit,” a new documentary film in which she is prominently featured.

The film explores the deplorable mass incarceration of girls in the United States for the benefit of private prison contractors who profit from the drug war and the other racially unequal applications of criminal justice that have led the US to have some of the highest incarceration rates in world. The affects of these policies are brought to light through the voices of some of the girls and women who have been systematically dehumanized by the criminal justice system.

We hope the film continues to find audiences to share its dramatic insights into the affects of America’s culture of incarceration.

In The Public Square


Leslie Acoca asked journalist and author Matt Bai about the media’s coverage of the health care and conditions for incarcerated girls at a Zocalo Public Square event in October.






The Real Pink Shackles: Notes from Detention

Jenny Gold of Kaiser Health/NPR news and I noticed that the girls aged 11-17 who were locked up in New Mexico were wearing pink wrist shackles when they were brought in by law enforcement.

The 2,000 girls locked up in LA are also shackled in pink. I decided to buy some of real ones from Smith and Wesson or Peerless (two huge prison equipment companies) so I could bring home to people the horrible experience of young girls who have being forcibly restrained. It was NOT easy. Pink shackles were sold out almost everywhere! We finally got some Peerless pink handcuffs through Amazon. They are a bright pink and shockingly heavy and…small. Teen girls’ wrists are very small.

It is so wrong that the only concession to the unnecessary arrest and incarceration of little girls is the color of their handcuffs.

Thoughts on the International Day of the Girl

Letter to Friends from Leslie Acoca, President and Founder
National Girls Health and Justice Institute.

October 11, 2014, the International Day of the Girl, led me to reflect on my last 3 years in Los Angeles serving as President of the National Girls Health and Justice Institute (NGHJI), and on my 15 years of work to end the incarceration of young girls in America by improving their access to medical care. Our work is hard because Americans just aren’t told that 429,000 girls aged 10-17 get arrested each year in America – mostly for running away from abusive homes – and that they get arrested younger and are medically sicker than boys. Americans just don’t know that many of these medically vulnerable children have never seen a doctor in their lives, or if they have, that they lose their health insurance at the point of being locked up just when they are most traumatized and need it most desperately.

Americans just aren’t told that removing community-based health insurance from incarcerated kids is massively shortsighted, given that our research shows that improving girls access to medical care decreases their recidivism – or the likelihood that they will ever get in trouble again – by 72%, while making them and their children healthy and strong. Due to complex Federal policies, incarcerated girls, and boys who lose or have their medical insurance removed or suspended as soon as they enter lock-ups, are the children most left behind and left out of Obamacare. Few know these facts.

We at the NGHJI are dedicated to creating a health care solution to the problem of incarceration, and to giving girls a healthy future. But we are pretty much the only organization in the country with a focus on improving health access for incarcerated girls – the sickest and most vulnerable adolescents in the country.

Awareness is dawning slowly among policymakers, but not fast enough for some girls, like one incarcerated girl we know who has a history of being trafficked, and who finds it too painful to sit in her schoolroom chair due to the sexual injuries she has suffered. Standard detention medical intake – because it was not designed for girls – did not identify her injuries at intake, so she remained untreated. The girl’s teachers thought she was lazy and resistant to learning when in fact she was in constant pain that she found difficult to talk about. The Girls Health Screen would have identified this girl’s sexual injuries and gotten her the treatment she needed.

Today, I’m looking back on our hard won successes, like getting our iPad-based Girls Health Screen – the only medical screen designed just for girls in the US – into the Stockton Detention Center in San Joaquin County, California, where close to 300 girls will take the GHS each year while locked up. We expect that all 2,000 girls entering detention in Los Angeles County next year will take the GHS. What this means going forward is that every girl in these detention centers will have her health needs routinely identified and treated.

I’m proud that the Girls Health Screen helped get emergency medical attention to a 15-year old girl behind bars who was experiencing two life-threatening medical conditions: a tubal pregnancy and a suicidal depression. But it’s disturbing that only two locked facilities – out of 2,800 locked child jails holding girls nationwide – are using the Girls Health Screen to save and improve vulnerable girls’ lives when thousands of girls could be helped and communities could be made safer. The Girls Health Screen, Girls Health Passport, and other tools are available, tested, and inexpensive to use. Why aren’t they being used? When I recently asked a community member that question, this person looked at me and said, “These girls just aren’t that important.”

I also think it’s because incarcerated girls are invisible and that invisibility, like a serious disease, is a life-threatening condition. I invite more parents of daughters, more politicians, more foundation leaders, and more sensitive media to come with us to meet our girls and hear their stories. Most are poor girls of color – primarily Latina in California – who are stigmatized by the violence they’ve experienced and their lack of education and health care. And yet, so many are so brave and smart. Our girls behind bars may never get a prize like Malala – who deserves all the recognition she is receiving and more – but our hidden girls are also beautiful, talented, outspoken, resourceful, brave, articulate young women.

I believe that every day should be the Day of the Girl. And among the photos of brave and oppressed girls from around the globe flashed on the web on the International Day of the Girl – the faces of OUR girls locked up right here in America should come out of obscurity and also be pictured. As one 14 year-old behind bars told me, her hands on her hips “We are not nothing!”

Check out Leslie’s “What About the Girls?” Video

Watch Leslie Acoca’s dramatic “What about the girls?” presentation for the 2014 Stoneleigh Foundation Symposium. Leslie describes ways to address the plight of girls in the juvenile justice system who suffer from unaddressed physical and mental health needs.

Hear today’s WNPR interview!

I was interviewed today for John Dankosky’s WNPR “Where We Live” program about Connecticut’s proposed building of a second maximum security facility for girls. Click on the arrow below to hear the program.