LGBTQ Youth and Texas' Justice System
LGBTQ youth, especially those who are transgender or GNC, Black, or Latinx, are more likely than non-LGBTQ youth to come into contact with law enforcement. Nationally, 13%–15% of youth who come into contact with the criminal justice system are LGBTQ, and roughly 300,000 LGBTQ youth are arrested and/or detained each year. LGBTQ youth of color are vastly overrepresented in the juvenile justice system where more than 60% are Black or Latinx.
The following sections explore the myriad factors that push LGBTQ youth toward the justice system and cause discrepancies in rates of incarceration for LGBTQ youth.
Family Rejection and Estrangement: On average, one-third of parents reject their children after they come out as LGBTQ. When LGBTQ youth experience family rejection after coming out, they are eight times more likely to attempt suicide. Lack of family backing in getting LGBTQ children access to mental health care and other support increases the likelihood that youth will come into contact with the justice system during a mental health crisis.
Homeless, Unsheltered, and Displaced LGBTQ Youth: Homelessness also exposes LGBTQ youth to interactions with law enforcement. Law enforcement officers also typically stop and arrest unsheltered LGBTQ youth on charges connected to survival rather than malicious intent. In 2016, the majority of the 49,957 arrests of juveniles in Texas were for charges that can be associated with homelessness and survival.
Foster Care System Involvement: One national survey showed 54% of homeless LGBTQ youth respondents had been sexually, physically, or emotionally abused by family members before they became homeless. LGBTQ youth are twice as likely as non-LGBTQ youth to live in a foster or group home. Nearly 23% of LGBQ youth in the juvenile justice system have experience in the foster care system compared to only 3% of non-LGBQ youth.
Mental Health Conditions and Substance Use: Family strife during the coming out and self-identification process can result in a significant amount of stress and trauma for LGBTQ youth. One study found 18% of LGB youth had experienced major depression in the past year, 11% met the criteria for PTSD, and 31% reported suicidal behavior at some point in their lifetime. Suicidal behavior among youth directly pushes them toward the justice system.
Unsafe Schools and the School-to-Prison Pipeline: A 2015 study conducted in Texas found that 78% of students surveyed experienced verbal harassment from peers due to their sexual orientation; 58% were verbally harassed due to their gender expression; 35% reported physical harassment by other students because of their sexual orientation; and 26% reported physical harassment due to their gender expression. Additionally, forms of discipline and forcible removal from school increase the risk that LGBTQ students, especially students of color, will come into contact with the justice system.
LGBTQ Adults and Texas’ Justice System
Although they make up 3%–5% of the general adult population in the U.S., LGBTQ adults are vastly overrepresented in jails and prisons across the country. The National Inmate Survey (NIS) conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics shows 6% of men in jails and 9% of men in prisons identify as gay, bisexual, or as having had sex with other men. Nationwide, over 36% of women in jails and 42% of women in prisons identify as lesbian, bisexual, or as having had sex with other women.
There are a number of factors that increase the liklihood that LGBTQ adults become involved in the criminal justice system:
Mental Health Conditions and Substance Use: LGBTQ adults experience higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidality than non-LGBTQ adults. LGBTQ people are three times more likely than the general population to live with major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, PTSD, thoughts of suicide, or substance abuse disorder.
Employment, Housing, and Identification Discrimination: Lawful discrimination is a precursor to justice system involvement and increases the likelihood that LGBTQ people in Texas will become unsheltered or homeless, be unable to access appropriate medical care, be unable to maintain a job, or live in poverty. Without stable housing, income, and access to health care, many LGBTQ people must rely on survival economies to meet their needs, which increases the possibility of sexual exploitation and incarceration. Of the 2,628 felony prostitution arrests of individuals in Texas with three or more prior arrests between May 2017 and April 2018, only 146 were provided services and programming through community supervision.
Incarcerated LGBTQ people are alao more likely to experience abuse and harassment by staff and others in the correctional facility, improper placement and solitary confinement, and denial of health care and programming. Many LGBTQ people do not identify as LGBTQ at intake to avoid abuse, violence, and mistreatment.
Findings from the Black and Pink Survey
Of the 245 respondents in Texas prisons, 59% identified as LGBTQ before incarceration, 65% struggled with substance abuse, and 58% were diagnosed with a mental illness. Additionally, Black LGBTQ adults are overrepresented among prison populations, LGBTQ adults tend to receive longer sentences and thus stay in prison until older ages, most were first incarcerated before the age of 22, and the majority of LGBTQ adults in prison have been incarcerated more than once.