New research reveals that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are both more likely to be incarcerated, and more likely to be sexually harassed and assaulted in U.S. prisons.
Lesbian and bisexual women are eight times more likely than heterosexual women to be incarcerated. According to Reuters, “the proportion of women in prisons identifying as lesbian and bisexual (36%) is eight times greater than the 3.4 percent of U.S. women overall who identify as lesbian or bisexual.” The number was so high that it shocked the study’s author, Ilan Meyer, who checked the figure three times.
While the incarceration rate is 612 per 100,000 for the general U.S. population (men and women), the incarceration rate for lesbian, gay and bisexual people is 1,882 per 100,000. That is more than three times higher.
In the study, “sexual minorities” are defined as LGBT people or people who reported having a same-sex sexual experience prior to being incarcerated. 9.3 percent of all men in prison and 42.1 percent of all women in prison (long-term, high-security facilities) are sexual minorities. In jails (short-term, low-security facilities), 6.2 percent of men are sexuality minorities, as are 35.7 percent of women.
When one looks at the rates of sexual harassment in prisons and jails, the results are just as grim. 5% of sexual minorities have been victimized by prison or jail staff, and 12% reported that they’ve been victimized by an inmate.
Prison staff treats sexual minorities more harshly than heterosexual inmates – sexual minorities are “more likely to experience solitary confinement and to report psychological distress.”
And not all sentences are delivered equally. Lesbian and bisexual women are sentenced to longer periods of time than heterosexual women imprisoned or jailed for the same crime.
The study demonstrates how much work is left to be done not just on an activist and legislative level to protect sexual minorities, but also in research. The community needs researchers to do intersectional analyses of how race, class and mental health, coupled with sexual minority status, influence an inmate’s experiences with the legal system.
Researchers need to ask why sexual minorities are receiving such harsh treatment. Is it because every single judge in America is consciously homophobic? (Which is unlikely.) Is it because sexual minorities are more likely to be poor due to lack of antidiscriminatory employment protections, and therefore more likely to live in low-income neighborhoods that are heavily policed?
Only further research will tell. Read more about the study here.