Research shows that at least 15% of youth in detention are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ). Further, LGBTQ youth are more likely to be convicted in juvenile court and may stay in the juvenile justice system for lengthier periods of time. There are a number of reasons that LGBTQ youth are disproportionately represented in juvenile detention. For example, LGBTQ youth are more likely to face family rejection or to have difficulty in school, two major driving factors into the juvenile justice system. Once incarcerated or detained, LGBTQ youth face some of the worst the system has to offer, including sexual abuse, psychological abuse, and physical abuse.
JJPL launched the LGBTQ Youth Project in 2006 to focus on the needs of LGBTQ youth, especially LGBTQ youth of color, with the ultimate goal of improving the juvenile justice system for all youth.
The objectives are to ensure that LGBTQ youth in the juvenile justice system receive quality representation in delinquency proceedings, reform the secure care facilities to provide quality services addressing the specific needs of LGBTQ youth or youth living with HIV/AIDS from entry to post-release, and significantly reduce the number of incidents of violence and harassment experienced by LGBTQ youth in secure confinement.
In the first few years of the work, the LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS Youth Project:
- Conducted an assessment of the needs of LGBTQ youth in prison by surveying youth incarcerated in Louisiana state prisons, including those who either identified as LGBTQ or were perceived to be LGBTQ by other youth in the facilities, as well as asked heterosexual youth about their perceptions of LGBTQ youth in the facilities;
- Successfully advocated for close to two dozen incarcerated LGBTQ youth and HIV positive youth on issues that included securing their early release from the facility, reducing discriminatory disciplinary practices such as punishing children for having long hair, the inappropriate use of lockdown, and the right to confidentiality of HIV status;
- Conducted trainings for juvenile public defenders, drug court personnel, district attorneys, Families in Need of Services (FINS), Office of Children and Family Services (OCS), juvenile bureau police and other court personnel to increase understanding of LGBTQ youth and reduce their disproportionate contact with law enforcement and the juvenile justice system;
- Impacted stakeholders at the national level through presentations at conferences for the National Juvenile Justice Network, Annie E. Casey’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, MacArthur Models for Change, Community Justice Network for Youth, National Juvenile Defender Center, and more;
- Gained positive national media attention through articles about LGBTQ youth in Louisiana’s juvenile justice system such as “I Was Scared To Sleep” in The Nation, “Queer and Loathing” in Mother Jones, and a PBS segment, “Our Bodies, Our Rights: Juvenile Injustice” and;
- Released a report on LGBTQ youth in Louisiana state prisons called Locked Up & Out that has served as a platform for greater policy reform.
- The Project also helped with the writing of Hidden Injustice: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth in Juvenile Courts.
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