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Report reveals how the criminal justice system fails LGBTQ people

April 20, 2016

A new report on how lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBTQ) people interact with the criminal legal system, Unjust: How the Broken Criminal Justice System Fails LGBT People, by the Movement Advancement Project and the Center for American Progress, reveals the reality of the broken criminal justice system in the United States. The report shows how pervasive stigma and discrimination, discriminatory policing strategies, and discriminatory laws can target LGBTQ people, especially LGBTQ people of color and LGBTQ people of low-income.
thumbnail_Figure 32 High Rates of Incarceration Among Transgender AdultsAccording to the report, discrimination and stigma is one of the main reasons why LGBTQ people of color and low-income might have a higher risk of ending up incarcerated. Discrimination and stigma in housing and employment may force many LGBTQ people into untenable situations. When people are pushed out of their homes because of their sexual orientation or fired unfairly because of who they are, they are at a higher risk at becoming homeless. Homelessness may leave many LGBTQ people vulnerable to encounters with law enforcement and ultimately, criminalization. For example, one in five (20%) transgender people in men’s prisons in California had been homeless just prior to their incarceration.

LGBT People Face High Rates of Housing Discrimination

LGBT People Face High Rates of Housing Discrimination

Also, discrimination and stigma towards people living with HIV is another way the criminal justice system targets the LGBTQ community. Nearly 2/3 of states maintain outdated HIV criminalization laws that criminalize the lives of people living with HIV. These laws punish the behaviors of people living with HIV, even if those behaviors carry no risk of transmission.

Robert Suttle from Louisiana saw his life destroyed after he was forced to accept a plea bargain and served six months of prison rather than risk 10-year prison sentenced for not disclosing his HIV-positive status to his boyfriend when they met. He also was forced to register as a sex-offender through 2024, and the words “sex offender” are printed in red capital letters underneath his picture on his driver’s license. Data from the William Institute found that individuals charged with HIV-related cases were convicted in 99% of the cases, and 91% of those convicted were sentenced to jail time in prisons. In some states, individuals convicted under these laws are forced to register as sex offenders. Just like Robert, there are many people in the LGBTQ community who are being targeted by these outdated criminalization laws that further limit employment and housing options, among other far-reaching ramifications.
Figure 21 HIV Criminalization
Life after conviction can make it more difficult for LGBTQ people to re-enter society. The report exposes two primary challenges LGBTQ people face after conviction. There is a lack of support for LGBTQ people in probation parole and re-entry programs. When LGBTQ people need support finding housing or employment, they experience discrimination at a higher rate. Rarely do parole, probation, and re-entry programs take into consideration the discrimination LGBTQ people face in housing, employment, and many other areas of life. Also, having a criminal record can harm LGBTQ people‘s ability to support themselves and to be a part of their families and communities. In many ways, LGBTQ people continue to be punished after they have completed their sentence. Furthermore, because LGBTQ people already struggle with discrimination and stigma, a criminal record can create additional barriers for former inmates trying to rebuild their lives. For LGBTQ immigrants, regardless of immigration status, having a criminal record can easily lead to deportation.

SECTION 3 GRAPHIC LGBT People Face Challenges Rebuilding Lives

The report provides high-level recommendations focused on reducing the number of people, particularly the number of LGBTQ people of color and low-income LGBTQ people, who come in contact with law enforcement. Some of the recommendations made include reducing abusive and excessive force by police; repealing, replacing and modernizing HIV criminalization laws; and creating a fair chance for people returning to their communities after incarceration. Because of the broken criminal justice system in the U.S., it is clear we still need to make sure judges, court staff, attorneys, and juries don’t discriminate LGBTQ people. Click here to read full report.

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by Daniel Chevez, National LGBTQ Task Force Media Relations Fellow

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