System actors of color are considered a key intervention to reduce disparities in the juvenile legal system precisely because they share intersectional experiences of oppression similar to those experienced by system-involved youth. In this study, we interrogate the assumption that diversifying the workforce can remedy intersectional disparities in youth outcomes. Grounded in intersectionality, we analyzed semi-structured interviews with 17 (12 women, five men) actors of color—eight at the frontline, five at the mid-level, and four at the top level. Specifically, we examined their narratives of lived oppressions, juxtaposed these narratives with their articulations of how well the system meets its welfare mandate, and examined actors’ sense of their ability to contribute to girls’ welfare, attending especially to how these experiences vary by their positions in the system’s hierarchy. Our findings suggest that actors of color indeed share experiences of oppression as system-involved youth, particularly along axes of race and gender. Further, across all levels of institutional positionality, actors articulate a disjunction, revealing the system’s accountability to bureaucratic and funding structures rather than girls; they respond to this disjunction through resistant actions—with different degrees of effectiveness—anchored in accountability to girls, and by envisioning how, given their roles and relative power, the system can meet its social welfare mandate.
When Diversity is Not Enough: An Intersectional Examination of How Juvenile Legal System Actors of Color Experience the System’s Welfare Mandate for Girls of Color
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