By Zach Schalk
July 16, 2010 3:10 P.M. EDT
It is not a novel concept that minority groups are disproportionately represented in juvenile centers across the country. However, one group that is often overlooked when discussing demographics of locked up at-risk youth is the LGBT community. A recent article in The Nation by Daniel Redman shed light on their uphill fight for fair treatment. While LGBT young people face many obstacles once they enter the juvenile corrections system, most of the problems start much earlier:
An LGBT youth's problems with the law frequently begin at home. “LGBT youth are more likely to be arrested than straight youth because they're more likely to be pushed out of their homes," says Dr. Beyer. And "family rejection is a direct pipeline to the juvenile justice system," says San Francisco State University researcher Caitlin Ryan of the Family Acceptance Project.
Redman goes on to point out that despite making up only 3 to 10 percent of the general population, between 20 and 40 percent of homeless youths are LGBT—in large part because “one quarter of all LGBT youth are kicked out of their homes or run away”—and they account for 15 percent of the prison population. The article not only says that LGBT youths are 12 times more likely to report being abused by fellow inmates, according to a 2009 Department of Justice study, but that in many cases staff members are either ill prepared or unwilling to provide the support and council these young people need.
Steps must be taken to address this issue if our juvenile corrections facilities are to meet the needs of our youth. In this video from GRITtv Redman, who is an attorney for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, is joined by Gabrielle Prisco, Director of the Juvenile Justice Project at the Correctional Association of New York, to dissect the problem and offer solutions. They identify programs in states such as Missouri and New York that could provide a blueprint for other states as they attempt to address the issue and suggest that more training and education is necessary on the part of prison administrators.
The ultimate solution won’t be found through new policies or directives to benefit the kids already in detention. The answer lies in giving kids the support they need before they are forced to the streets; in giving kids confused about their sexual orientation the necessary council they need and the freedom to express themselves in a positive way. Locking kids up is not the way to prepare them for a healthy life in society.