The data is clear: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people are overrepresented at every stage of criminal justice system, starting with juvenile justice system involvement. They are arrested, incarcerated, and subjected to community supervision at significantly higher rates than straight and cisgender people. This is especially true for trans people and queer women. And while incarcerated, LGBTQ individuals are subject to particularly inhumane conditions and treatment.

For this briefing, we’ve compiled the existing research on LGBTQ involvement and experiences with the criminal justice system, and – where the data did not yet exist – analyzed a recent national data set to fill in the gaps. (Namely, we provide the only national estimates for lesbian, gay, or bisexual arrest rates and community supervision rates that we know of.) We present the findings for each stage of the criminal justice system with available data, and pair them with new graphics illustrating the dramatic disparities in the system related to sexuality and gender identity.

For LGBTQ people, criminal justice involvement often starts at a young age. LGBTQ youth are extremely overrepresented in the juvenile justice system. Researchers estimate that 20% of youth in the juvenile justice system are lesbian, gay, bisexual, questioning, gender nonconforming, or transgender compared with 4-6% of youth in the general population. The same research shows that 40% of girls (who were assigned female at birth) in the juvenile justice system identify as LBQ and/or gender nonconforming.  This overrepresentation is largely due to the obstacles that LGBTQ youth face after fleeing abuse and lack of acceptance at home because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In order to survive, LGBTQ youth are pushed towards criminalized behaviors such as drug sales, theft, or survival sex, which increase their risk of arrest and confinement.

High rates of criminal justice system contact continue into adulthood. Our analysis of data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reveals that in 2019, gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals (with an arrest rate of 3,620 per 100,000) were 2.25 times as likely to be arrested in the past twelve months than straight individuals (with an arrest rate of 1,610 per 100,000). This disparity is driven by lesbian and bisexual women, who are 4 times as likely to be arrested than straight women (with an arrest rate of 3,860 per 100,000 compared to 860 per 100,000). Meanwhile, gay and bisexual men are 1.35 times as likely to be arrested than straight men (with a rate of 3,210 arrested per 100,000 compared to 2,380 per 100,000).

Read the full article about LGBTQ representation in the criminal justice system by Alexi Jones at Prison Policy Initiative.