LGBT People Are More Likely To End Up In Prison

Sexual minorities are also more likely to be put in solitary confinement.

A new report indicates LGBT people are disproportionately incarcerated in the United States.

Getty Images

In a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers at the UCLA School of Law also discovered that sexual minorities were more likely to be mistreated and sexually assaulted in jails and prisons. (Jails are defined as short-term facilities that hold inmates for trial, sentencing or terms less than one year.)

Sexual minorities—those who self-identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual or reported a same-sex sexual experience before incarceration—were disproportionately behind bars: 9.3% of men in prison, 6.2% of men in jail, 42.1% of women in prison, and 35.7% of women in jail.

According to the data, the number of bisexual/lesbian women behind bars is eight times greater than in the general population, where only the 3.4% identify as such.

"The high rate was so shocking, I had to check it three times to make sure we weren't making any mistakes," said lead author Ilan Meyer. "We've received mixed reactions—some people still don't believe it. However, there is no reason to suspect it or think there's an error."

Looking at the 2011-2012 National Inmate Survey, Meyer's team found that rate of incarceration for lesbian, gay and bisexual people was 1,882 per 100,000, or more than three times the overall rate.

The data went so far as to distinguish between sexual identity and behavior: "Not everyone who has had a same-sex experience identifies as gay," Meyer wrote, "and we were able to look at several measures."

According to the Department of Justice, 12% of LGBT inmates say they've been sexually victimized by another inmate, compared to 1.2% of heterosexual prisoners. And 5% claim they've been violated by staff. compared to 2.1% of straights.

Sexual minorities were also more likely to experience solitary confinement and other sanctions, and to report current psychological distress.

Gay and bisexual women were sentenced to longer periods of time than straight women, while Gay/bisexual men were more likely to be serving sentences longer than 10 years. (Sexual minorities were more likely to be incarcerated for violent sexual and nonsexual crimes rather than crimes related to property, drugs or parole violations.)

It's not just adults: A 2015 survey of young people in seven juvenile detention facilities found 20% identified as LGBT or gender non-conforming, compared to the 5-7% in the general population.


Meyer says there needs to be more research into the causes of this discrepancy, which he says include everything from overpolicing of sexual offenses by LGBT people to "biases ingrained in our court system that lead to sexual minorities being handled in a different way."

Also at work: LGBT people are much more likely to experience family rejection, homelessness, drug addiction, and other factors leading to criminality.

Below, watch a clip from the Logo TV documentary The If Project.

Latest News