The nation’s “broken” criminal justice system is failing LGBT people of color, according to a recent report.
People of color who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) regularly face unfair treatment and abuse in the criminal justice system, according to a recent report co-authored by the Center for American Progress and the Movement Advancement Project.
The groups conclude that the nation’s “broken” criminal justice system is failing LGBT people of color.
Although data about LGBT people of color in the criminal justice system is limited, the report cites research indicating that these individuals are overrepresented in the criminal justice system and often experience “unjust treatment at the hands of law enforcement, courts, immigration authorities and re-entry programs.”
“Whether they are interacting with law enforcement, going to court, confined in prisons or jails, or preparing for re-entry into society, the story is the same: LGBT people of color face an extraordinarily high risk of discriminatory treatment and abuse in our criminal justice system,” said Ineke Mushovic, the Movement Advancement Project’s executive director.
In the overall U.S. population, one in three adults are people of color, according to the report, and 3.8 percent of all adults identify as LGBT. When it comes to adults in prison or jail, two in three are people of color and 7.9 percent identify as LGBT.
Meanwhile, one in five youth identify as LGBT or gender non-conforming, and it is estimated that 85 percent of LGBT youth in juvenile justice facilities are people of color.
According to the report’s authors, there are three key reasons why LGBT people of color are overrepresented in the criminal justice system. They include: pervasive stigma and discrimination that can, for example, push LGBT youth into the school-to-prison pipeline; discriminatory enforcement of criminal laws; and “harmful” policing strategies and tactics such as “stop-and-frisk and profiling.”
LGBT people of color who enter the criminal justice system often encounter the following challenges, as documented in the report:
- Discrimination in court and court proceedings. Evidence shows that people of color and LGBT people, including LGBT youth, face unique challenges accessing counsel, obtaining pre-trial release, and getting a fair sentence.
- Unfair and inhumane treatment in confinement facilities like jails, prisons, and immigration detention centers. When LGBT people of color are placed in confinement facilities to await trial or as part of a sentence, they are extremely vulnerable to harassment, discrimination and inhumane treatment. In the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, half or more of Latino, Native American, and black transgender people who had been incarcerated reported harassment from other inmates – twice the rate for formerly incarcerated white transgender respondents.
- Lack of support in preparing for re-entry. Obtaining skills, staying connected with family, and coordinating re-entry planning services are all crucial elements of a successful life after conviction and confinement, and yet LGBT people of color are disadvantaged in all of these areas.
“LGBT people of color face an extreme level of bias and discrimination across multiple systems,” said Laura Durso with the Center for American Progress. “Lives are being lost every day because our broken criminal justice system unjustly adds to the unique burdens facing this population. As we continue to discuss how to reduce disparities and fix the system, we must explore solutions that will make it fairer for people of color, including LGBT people of color.”
Some of the report’s recommendations include strengthening anti-discrimination laws for LGBT people, enacting criminal justice reforms to reduce racial and ethnic disparities, adopting anti-profiling police measures, modernizing drug laws and repealing “all laws that criminalize the transmission of HIV and other diseases.”
The National Black Justice Coalition was among several groups that helped develop the report.
“Statistically, it is quite clear that the criminal justice system has prospered from the disproportionate impact it has had on black and brown people. As LGBT people of color, this impact is twofold as our multiple identities too often represent threats and garner disrespect,” said the National Black Justice Coalition’s Isaiah Wilson. “If we are not resolute to acknowledge and address this reality, we will lose a generation of unapologetic, young LGBT people of color to the flaws of our justice system.”
Image: Black Youth Project