UNJUST: LGBTQ Youth Incarcerated in the Juvenile Justice System

A growing body of research lays bare the overrepresentation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) youth in the juvenile justice system in the United States.a As shown in the infographic on the next page, LGBTQ and gender non-conforming youth are overrepresented in juvenile detention and correctional facilities in the juvenile system: the percentage of incarcerated LGBT youth is double that of LGBTQ youth in the general population.

LGBTQ youth, particularly LGBTQ youth of color, face discrimination and stigma that lead to criminalization and increased interactions with law enforcement and the criminal justice system. Family rejection, family instability, and poverty may result in homelessness or time spent in the child welfare system, where LGBTQ youth frequently face stigma and discrimination. Additionally, LGBTQ students often lack support or are over-policed at school, pushing them out of school and onto the streets. Once on the streets, status offenses, drug laws, and laws criminalizing sex work—as well as policing strategies and discrimination by law enforcement—often target LGBTQ youth. A longitudinal study published in Pediatrics found that youth who reported identifying as LGB or having same-sex attractions were more likely to be stopped by police, to be expelled from school, or to be arrested and convicted as juveniles and adults.1 For some LGBTQ youth, especially LGBTQ youth of color and transgender and non-conforming youth, these factors play a large role in increasing their interactions with law enforcement and ultimately their overrepresentation in the juvenile and criminal justice systems.