Practice Guide: LGBT Youth in the Juvenile Justice System

Posted September 29, 2015
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog newpracticeguide 2015

Richard Ross for Juvenile in Justice

In the juve­nile deten­tion prac­tice guide, LGBT Youth in the Juve­nile Jus­tice Sys­tem, the Casey Foun­da­tion doc­u­ments the vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of les­bian, gay, bisex­u­al and trans­gen­der (LGBT) youth in com­mu­ni­ties and in jus­tice sys­tems. As the guide explains, social stig­ma, fam­i­ly rejec­tion and dis­crim­i­na­tion sub­ject LGBT youth to increased risk of sub­stance use, home­less­ness, school exclu­sion, depres­sion and sui­ci­dal­i­ty. These risks are well-doc­u­ment­ed and dev­as­tat­ing, dri­ving dis­pro­por­tion­ate num­bers of LGBT youth into the jus­tice system.

Recent research has shown that up to 20% of the youth con­fined in America’s juve­nile deten­tion facil­i­ties iden­ti­fy as LGBT, ques­tion­ing or gen­der non­con­form­ing, which is almost three times their esti­mat­ed num­ber in the gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion. Too often, the abuse expe­ri­enced by LGBT youth in the streets is even more per­va­sive in deten­tion and cor­rec­tion­al set­tings. The data show that les­bian, gay and bisex­u­al youth con­fined in juve­nile facil­i­ties are at least sev­en times more like­ly to be sex­u­al­ly assault­ed by oth­er youth as are their het­ero­sex­u­al peers.

Down­load LGBT Youth in Juve­nile Justice

The sig­nif­i­cant over­rep­re­sen­ta­tion and doc­u­ment­ed vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of LGBT youth in the juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem has prompt­ed recent changes in law and pol­i­cy that sig­nif­i­cant­ly impact prac­tice. The Prison Rape Elim­i­na­tion Act, as well as recent case law and emerg­ing pro­fes­sion­al stan­dards, have cre­at­ed impor­tant pro­tec­tions of LGBT youth and new expec­ta­tions of juve­nile jus­tice per­son­nel. Imple­men­ta­tion of these new require­ments, how­ev­er, varies wide­ly across the coun­try and there is a demand for clear pro­fes­sion­al guid­ance. This prac­tice guide is a response to that demand and part of the Casey Foundation’s series of guides on juve­nile deten­tion reform.

This prac­tice guide reflects a huge and wel­come shift in soci­etal and juve­nile jus­tice stan­dards,” said Nate Balis, the direc­tor of the Foun­da­tion’s Juve­nile Jus­tice Strat­e­gy Group. In a way that would have been hard to imag­ine even five years ago, as the guide lays out, the juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem stands to lead the way in improv­ing how we treat LGBT youth in our communities.”

The prac­tice guide:

  • Pro­vides accu­rate infor­ma­tion about sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion, gen­der iden­ti­ty and gen­der expression.
  • Sum­ma­rizes research on the impact of fam­i­ly rejec­tion and soci­etal bias on the health and well-being of LGBT youth, the dri­vers that con­tribute to their dis­pro­por­tion­ate con­tact with the jus­tice sys­tem and the harm­ful and unfair prac­tices to which they are sub­ject­ed in the system.
  • Rec­om­mends poli­cies and pro­ce­dures to pro­hib­it dis­crim­i­na­tion, pre­vent harm and pro­mote the health and well-being of LGBT youth who are jus­tice involved.
  • Rec­om­mends poli­cies and pro­ce­dures to meet the legal and pro­fes­sion­al stan­dards gov­ern­ing the deten­tion of LGBT youth.

With­out ques­tion, full imple­men­ta­tion of the rec­om­men­da­tions in this prac­tice guide will require sig­nif­i­cant changes in most juris­dic­tions. Nev­er­the­less, these efforts can­not wait. LGBT youth are harmed every day in juve­nile jus­tice sys­tems. There is an urgent need to imme­di­ate­ly begin the process of cre­at­ing sys­tems in which all young peo­ple, irre­spec­tive of gen­der and sex­u­al­i­ty, are treat­ed with respect and sup­port­ed to be themselves.

Pho­to cred­it: Richard Ross and Juve­nile in Justice

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