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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 17, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 07
Incarceration rate of LGB people three times the general population
Section One
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Incarceration rate of LGB people three times the general population

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

A new study by scholars at the Williams Institute found that sexual minorities are incarcerated at disproportionately high rates, and once incarcerated they are more likely to experience mistreatment, harsh punishment, and sexual victimization.

Approximately 238,000 sexual minorities are incarcerated in the United States. It is important to note, however, that the nationwide incarceration rate of sexual minorities was previously unknown.

The new study, 'Incarceration Rates and Traits of Sexual Minorities in the United States: National Inmate Survey, 2011-2012,' is the first to consider incarcerated sexual minority men and women separately.

According to the report, sexual minorities - defined as people who self-identify as Lesbian, Gay, or Bisexual (LGB) and people who do not identify as LGB but reported a same-sex sexual experience - were disproportionately incarcerated: 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 were sexual minorities.

Compared with straight inmates, sexual minorities were more likely to have been sexually victimized as children, to have been sexually victimized while incarcerated, to have experienced solitary confinement and other sanctions, and to report current psychological distress.

'This raises a lot of questions and a call to action for policy changes in both jails and prisons,' said Williams Senior Scholar of Public Policy Dr. Ilan H. Meyer in an article for Reuters Health News.

Key findings of the study report the following:

Lesbians, Gay men, and Bisexuals make up about 3.5% of the US general population, but 5.5% of men in prisons are Gay or Bisexual and 33.3% of women in prison are Lesbian or Bisexual.

Among the approximately 238,000 sexual minorities held in prisons and jails, there are approximately 94,900 Gay and Bisexual men, 69,600 men who have sex with men (MSM) but do not identify as Gay/Bisexual, 56,400 Lesbian and Bisexual women, and 17,000 women who have sex with women (WSW) but do not identify as Lesbian or Bisexual.

This corresponds to an incarceration rate of 1,882 per 100,000 LGB people, or 2,368 per 100,000 Gay or Bisexual men and 1,399 per 100,000 Lesbians or Bisexual women. By comparison, the general incarceration rate is 612 per 100,000 US adults over age 18.

'I hope this research also raises awareness of the heightened risk that sexual minority populations face for sexual victimization, isolation, disproportionate punishment, and distress,' said Dr. Meyer. 'We need to understand more about the pathways that lead to greater incarceration of LGB people and whether biases ingrained in the criminal justice system lead to sexual minorities being treated differently than heterosexuals.'

Researchers drew their data from the National Inmate Survey, 2011-2012, a probability sample of inmates in US prisons and jails mandated by the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003.

Published in the American Journal of Public Health, the study is co-authored by Ilan H. Meyer, PhD; Andrew R. Flores, PhD; Lara Stemple, JD; Adam P. Romero, JD; Bianca D.M. Wilson, PhD; and Jody L. Herman, PhD.

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