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Report Cites Epidemic of Law Enforcement Injustices to LGBT Community

by Derek Gilna

Citing a system that appears to be based upon "maintaining structures of power based on race, poverty, ability and place," the LGBT organization Center for American Progress (CAP), takes American law enforcement to task.  CAP's Movement Advance Project, an independent think tank, provides a new look at "a growing body of work documenting and analyzing the experiences of LGBTQ in the criminal legal system," and doesn't like what it sees.

The report states: "in 2011-2012, 7.9% of individuals in state and federal prisons identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, as did 7.1% of individuals in city and county jails."  This is approximately double the percentage of LGBT adults in the U.S. This same percentage also applies to juvenile detainees, with 40% of girls and 14% of boys identifying as LGBT, as opposed to 7 to 9 percent of the general population.

These statistics show that there are three major factors increasing the chance that LGBT individuals will be incarcerated.  The first is that LGBT individuals are often stigmatized not only in society, but in their own homes.  They may have trouble obtaining and maintaining employment because of discrimination against their status. This, the report says, often increases the "risk of becoming homeless and/or relying on survival economies, which in turn leaves..(them) vulnerable to encounters with law enforcement, and ultimately, criminalization."

The second issue facing LGBT individuals, the report says, is "(d)iscriminatory enforcement of laws (that) criminalize (their) lives." Examples cited include outdated HIV criminalization laws, as well as state indecency laws, that "disproportionately target LGBT people engaged in consensual sex."  LGBT individuals are also disproportionately targeted, along with people of color and low-income groups, with violation of drug laws, and often face increased police violence and physical abuse.

The third issue facing LGBT individuals was discrimination against them in the trial process, often by their own defense attorneys, as well as jail and prison officials if they are convicted of a crime. Often, the report says, "LGBT people ...are placed in confinement facilities disproportionately encounter harsh and unsafe treatment by staff and fellow inmates, insufficient access to comprehensive, competent health care, and supportive services."  They also report high rates of sexual assault, with 245 reporting such incidents, as opposed to 2% of other inmates.

Yet another challenge facing those LGBT prisoners who are released is the lack of support from not only the correctional system, but often their own families.

"For people who already struggle with pervasive stigma and discrimination...a criminal record compounds daily discrimination to create substantial barriers to rebuilding one's life and avoid future interactions with the criminal justice system."            Clearly, the report concludes, there is much work to be done to provide the LGBT community at least with a level of justice commensurate with the general population.