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The Importance of Protecting LGBTQ Youth in the Juvenile Justice System

Posted in Research & Policy Wednesday, 28 June 2017

The Importance of Protecting LGBTQ Youth in the Juvenile Justice System

By Eunice Revis, Juvenile Justice Fellow

Discrimination, homelessness, and family rejection lead LGBTQ youth to the juvenile justice system - where they are exposed to unjust abuse and treatment. An alarming data report released today by the Movement Advancement Project, Center for American Progress, and Youth First presented the large number of LGBTQ youth in the juvenile justice system, and the harsh reality of being a LGBTQ youth in our nation’s juvenile detention and correctional facilities. Despite the extremely high rates of LGBTQ youth entering the juvenile justice system, the United States’ education system, law enforcement, and juvenile defenders, are not capable of managing the common challenges these children may face. As a result, the juvenile justice system does more harm to LGBTQ youth by criminalizing them. It is vital that LGBTQ youth in the juvenile justice system be protected, and that we target the discriminatory practices that are a result of the disproportionate imprisonment of LGBTQ youth.

A 2014 report from the Equity Project suggests that the rapid placement of LGBTQ youth in the juvenile justice system is a result of cruel and irrational school discipline policies. LGBTQ youth, particularly gender-nonconforming girls, are proven to experience more extreme disciplinary treatment than their non-LGBTQ peers. In addition to this, gay and transgender youth entering the juvenile justice system are twice as likely to have experienced neglect, abuse, and homelessness. Ultimately, this creates a pattern of run-ins with authorities. Ironically, however, a study from the Center for American Growth stated: “Higher rates of punishment do not correlate with higher rates of misbehavior among LGBT youth”.

In a recent survey of seven juvenile detention and correctional facilities across the nation, the data shows that 20% of incarcerated youth identified as LGBT or gender non-conforming. Furthermore, 40% of girls in the seven facilities reported identified as LGBT or gender non-conforming. In the pool of LGBTQ youth, 85% of the LGBT and gender nonconforming youth were in fact youth of color. A 2016 survey of juvenile detention and correctional facilities in the state of California found that: “19% of incarcerated youth identified as LGBTQ or gender non-conforming, 50% of girls identified as LGBT or gender non-conforming, and 90% of these youth were youth of color.”

It is apparent that the needs of LGBTQ youth are not met in juvenile detention and correctional facilities.  Out of 50 states, only 21 states and the District of Columbia implemented explicit sexual orientation and gender identity nondiscrimination protections in their facilities. While in these facilities, LQBTQ youth face a number of disparities such as abuse and mistreatment by staff, abuse by other youth, inadequate healthcare, and lack of supportive services. When LGBTQ youth are forced into these environments, they are stripped from their families and community, and subject to cruel treatment from their counterparts and staff. Even worse, their experience in the juvenile justice system does not prepare them to transition into adulthood. This leads to a deadly cycle of recidivism among LGBTQ youth.

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