Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 46, Issue 7, pp 1547–1561 | Cite as

Disproportionality and Disparities among Sexual Minority Youth in Custody

  • Bianca D. M. WilsonEmail author
  • Sid P. Jordan
  • Ilan H. Meyer
  • Andrew R. Flores
  • Lara Stemple
  • Jody L. Herman
Empirical Research


Research indicates that sexual minority youth are disproportionately criminalized in the U.S. and subjected to abusive treatment while in correctional facilities. However, the scope and extent of disparities based on sexual orientation remains largely overlooked in the juvenile justice literature. This study, based on a nationally representative federal agency survey conducted in 2012 (N = 8785; 9.9% girls), reveals that 39.4% of girls and 3.2% of boys in juvenile correctional facilities identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. These youth, particularly gay and bisexual boys, report higher rates of sexual victimization compared to their heterosexual peers. Sexual minority youth, defined as both lesbian, gay, and bisexual identified youth as well as youth who identified as straight and reported some same-sex attraction, were also 2–3 times more likely than heterosexual youth to report prior episodes of detention lasting a year or more. Implications for future research and public policy are discussed.


Juvenile justice Detention Sexual minorities Sexual violence 


Authors’ Contributions

B.W. conceived of the current study, participated in its design and coordination, developed the outline and structure of the manuscript, conducted analyses, and drafted the methods, results, and discussion of the manuscript; S.J. drafted the introduction of the manuscript, co-edited the remaining of the manuscript, and participated in the interpretation of the data; I.M. led the design of the overarching study, coordinated the original analyses of the data, and participated in preparing the manuscript; A.F. participated in the design and coordination of the study and performed the statistical analyses; L.S. participated in the design of the study, participated in the interpretation of the data, and participated in preparing the manuscript; J.H. participated in the design of the study, participated in the interpretation of the data, and participated in preparing the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interest.

Ethical Approval

IRB approval was not necessary as this article analyzes publicly available de-identified data.

Informed Consent

This study did not involve informed consent as the data were a secondary data source.


  1. Abram, K. M., Teplin, L. A., Charles, D. R., Longworth, S. L., McClelland, G. M., & Dulcan, M. K. (2004). Posttraumatic stress disorder and trauma in youth in juvenile detention. Archives of General Psychiatry, 61(4), 403–410.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  2. Abrams, L. S., Kim, K., & Anderson-Nathe, B. (2005). Paradoxes of treatment in juvenile corrections. Child and Youth Care Forum, 34(1), 7–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Alvy, L. M., Hughes, T. L., Kristjanson, A. F., & Wilsnack, S. C. (2013). Sexual identity group differences in child abuse and neglect. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 28(10), 2088–2111.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  4. Amnesty International. (2005). Stonewalled: Police abuse and misconduct against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the US. New York, NY: Amnesty International Publications. Google Scholar
  5. Ball, M. (2014). What’s queer about queer criminology? In D. Peterson, & V. R. Panfil (Eds.). Handbook of LGBT communities, crime, and uustice (pp. 531–555). New York, NY: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Beaver, K. M., Connolly, E. J., Schwartz, J. A., Boutwell, B. B., Barnes, J. C., & Nedelec, J. L. (2016). Sexual orientation and involvement in nonviolent and violent delinquent behaviors: Findings from the national longitudinal study of adolescent to adult health. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 45(7), 1759–1769.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Beck, A. J., Cantor, D., Hartge, J., & Smith, T. (2013). Sexual victimization in juvenile facilities reported by youth, 2012. (NCJ Publication No. 241708). Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice. Scholar
  8. Beck, A. J., Bruce, C., Cantor, D., Hartge, J., Heaton, L., & Ren, W. (2016). Facility-level And individual-level correlates of sexual victimization in juvenile facilities, 2012. (NCJ Publication No. 249877). Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice. Scholar
  9. Belknap, J., Holsinger, K., & Little, J. (2012). Sexual minority status, abuse, and self-harming behaviors among incarcerated girls. Journal of Child & Adolescent Trauma, 5(2), 173–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bishop, D. M., Leiber, M., & Johnson, J. (2010). Contexts of decision making in the juvenile justice system: An organizational approach to understanding minority overrepresentation. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 8(3), 213–233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bridges, G. S., & Steen, S. (1998). Racial disparities in official assessments of juvenile offenders: Attributional stereotypes as mediating mechanisms. American Sociological Review, 63(4), 554–570.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Burdge, H., Licona, A. C., & Hyemingway, Z. T. (2014). LGBTQ youth of color: Discipline disparities, school push-out, and the school-to-prison pipeline. San Francisco, CA: Gay-Straight Alliance Network and Tucson, AZ: Crossroads Collaborative at the University of Arizona. Scholar
  13. Buttar, A., Clements-Nolle, K., Haas, J., & Reese, F. (2013). Dating violence, psychological distress, and attempted suicide among female adolescents in the juvenile justice system. Journal of Correctional Health Care, 19(2), 101–112.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Center for American Progress & Movement Advancement Project. (2016). Unjust: How the Broken Criminal Justice System Fails LGBTQ Youth. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress and Denver, CO: Movement Advancement Project. Scholar
  15. Chesney-Lind, M., & Shelden, R. G. (2013). Girls, delinquency, and juvenile justice. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.Google Scholar
  16. Coalition for Juvenile Justice (2016). Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC): Facts and Resources., December 25, 2016.
  17. Cochran, J. C., & Mears, D. P. (2014). Race, ethnic, and gender divides in juvenile court sanctioning and rehabilitative intervention. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 52, 181–212.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Cochran, B. N., Stewart, A. J., Ginzler, J. A., & Cauce, A. M. (2002). Challenges faced by homeless sexual minorities: Comparison of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender homeless adolescents with their heterosexual counterparts. American Journal of Public Health, 92(5), 773–777.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  19. Conover-Williams, M. (2014). The queer delinquent: Impacts of risk and protective factors on sexual minority juvenile offending in the US. In D. Peterson, & V. R. Panfil (Eds.). Handbook of LGBT communities, crime, and justice (pp. 449–472). New York, NY: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Corliss, H. L., Goodenow, C. S., Nichols, L., & Austin, S. B. (2011). High burden of homelessness among sexual-minority adolescents: Findings from a representative Massachusetts high school sample. American Journal of Public Health, 101(9), 1683–1689.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  21. Crenshaw, K., Ocen, P., & Nanda, J. (2015). Black girls matter: Pushed out, overpoliced and underprotected. New York, NY: African American Policy Forum, Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies. Scholar
  22. Dank, M., Lachman, P., Zweig, J. M., & Yahner, J. (2014). Dating violence experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 43(5), 846–857.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Dank, M., Yu, L., Yahner, J., Pelletier, E., Mora, M., & Conner, B. (2015). Locked. Interactions with the criminal justice and child welfare systems for LGBTQ youth, YMSM, and YWSW who engage in survival sex. New York, NY: The Urban Institute. Scholar
  24. Dierkhising, C. B., Lane, A., & Natsuaki, M. N. (2014). Victims behind bars: A preliminary study of abuse during juvenile incarceration and post-release social and emotional functioning. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 20(2), 181.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Dowd, N. E. (Ed.) (2015). A new juvenile justice system: Total reform for a broken system. New York, NY: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Durso, L. E., & Gates, G. J. (2012). Serving our youth: Findings from a national survey of services providers working with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Los Angeles, CA: The Williams Institute. Scholar
  27. Eliason, M., Donelan, C., & Randall, C. (1992). Lesbian stereotypes. Health Care for Women International, 13(2), 131–144.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Estrada, R., & Marksamer, J. (2006). Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender young people in state custody: Making the child welfare and juvenile justice systems safe for all youth through litigation, advocacy, and education. Temple Law Review, 79, 415.Google Scholar
  29. Fader, J. J., Kurlychek, M. C., & Morgan, K. A. (2014). The color of juvenile justice: Racial disparities in dispositional decisions. Social Science Research, 44, 126–140.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Fagan, J., & Kupchik, A. (2011). Juvenile incarceration and the pains of imprisonment. Duke Forum for Law and Social Change, 3, 29.Google Scholar
  31. Feinstein, R., Greenblatt, A., Hass, L., Kohn, S., & Rana, J. (2001). Justice for all? A report on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered youth in the New York juvenile justice system. New York, NY: Urban Justice Center.Google Scholar
  32. Ford, J. D., Hartman, J. K., Hawke, J., & Chapman, J. F. (2008). Traumatic victimization, posttraumatic stress disorder, suicidal ideation, and substance abuse risk among juvenile justice-involved youth. Journal of Child & Adolescent Trauma, 1(1), 75–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Freedman, E. B. (1996). The prison lesbian: Race, class, and the construction of the aggressive female homosexual, 1915-1965. Feminist Studies, 22(2), 397–423.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Friedman, M. S., Marshal, M. P., Guadamuz, T. E., Wei, C., Wong, C. F., Saewyc, E. M., & Stall, R. (2011). A meta-analysis of disparities in childhood sexual abuse, parental physical abuse, and peer victimization among sexual minority and sexual nonminority individuals. American Journal of Public Health, 101(8), 1481–1494.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  35. Garnette, L., Irvine, A., Reyes, C., & Wilber, S. (2011). Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth and the juvenile justice system. In F. T. Sherman & F. H. Jacobs (Eds.), Juvenile justice: Advancing research, policy, and practice (pp. 156–173). New York, NY: Wiley.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Graham, L. F. (2014). Navigating community institutions: Black transgender women’s experiences in schools, the criminal justice system, and churches. Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 11(4), 274–287.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Guevara, L., Herz, D., & Spohn, C. (2006). Gender and juvenile justice decision making: What role does race play? Feminist Criminology, 1(4), 258–282.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Herman, J.L., Brown, T.N.T., Flores, A.R., Meyer, I.H., Wilson, B.D.M., & Stemple, L. (2016). Sexual victimization of incarcerated transgender people in the United States: Findings and limitations based on the National Inmate Survey (NIS-3). Manuscript in Preparation.Google Scholar
  39. Himmelstein, K. E., & Brückner, H. (2011). Criminal-justice and school sanctions against nonheterosexual youth: A national longitudinal study. Pediatrics, 127(1), 49–57.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  40. Hockenberry, S. (2016). Juveniles in Residential Placement, 2013. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Scholar
  41. Holman, B., & Ziedenberg, J. (2006). The dangers of detention: The impact of incarcerating youth in detention and other secure facilities. Washington, DC: Justice Policy Institute. Scholar
  42. Holsinger, K., & Hodge, J. P. (2014). The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender girls in juvenile justice systems. Feminist Criminology, 11(1), 23–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Hunt, J., & Moodie-Mills, A. (2012). The unfair criminalization of gay and transgender youth: An overview of the experiences of LGBT youth in the juvenile justice system. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress. Scholar
  44. Irvine, A. (2010). “We’ve had three of them”: Addressing the invisibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual and gender nonconforming youths in the juvenile justice system. Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, 19(3), 675–701.Google Scholar
  45. Irvine, A., & Canfield (2016). The overrepresentation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, questioning, gender nonconforming and transgender youth within the child welfare to juvenile justice crossover population. Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law, 24(2), 243–261.Google Scholar
  46. Javaid, A. (2015). The dark side of men: The nature of masculinity and its uneasy relationship with male rape. Journal of Men’s Studies, 23(3), 271–292.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Kann, L., Olsen, E. O., McManus, T., Harris, W. H., Shanklin, S. L., & Flint, K. H., et al. (2016). Sexual identity, sex of sexual contacts, and health-related behaviors among students in grades 9–12—United States and selected sites, 2015. MMWR Surveillance Summaries, 65(No. SS-9), 1–202. Google Scholar
  48. Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Bartkiewicz, M. J., Boesen, M. J., & Palmer, N. A. (2011). The 2011 national school climate survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth in our nation’s schools. New York, NY: Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). Scholar
  49. Majd, K., Marksamer, J., & Reyes, C. (2009). Hidden injustice: Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth in juvenile courts. San Francisco, CA: Legal Services for Children and National Center for Lesbian Rights and Washington, DC: National Juvenile Defender Center. Scholar
  50. Marksamer, J. (2008). And by the way, do you know he thinks he’s a girl? The failures of law, policy and legal representation for transgender youth in juvenile delinquency courts. Sexuality Research & Social Policy, 5(1), 72–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Marshal, M. P., Friedman, M. S., Stall, R., & Thompson, A. L. (2009). Individual trajectories of substance use in lesbian, gay and bisexual youth and heterosexual youth. Addiction, 104(6), 974–981.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  52. Marshal, M. P., Dietz, L. J., Friedman, M. S., Stall, R., Smith, H. A., & McGinley, J., et al. (2011). Suicidality and depression disparities between sexual minority and heterosexual youth: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Adolescent Health, 49(2), 115–123.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  53. Maschi, T., Hatcher, S. S., Schwalbe, C. S., & Rosato, N. S. (2008). Mapping the social service pathways of youth to and through the juvenile justice system: A comprehensive review. Children and Youth Services Review, 30(12), 1376–1385.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. McCarthy, P., Schiraldi, V., & Shark, M. (2016). The future of youth justice: A community-based alternative to the youth prison model. New Thinking in Community Corrections Bulletin. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice. (NCJ Publication No. 250142).Google Scholar
  55. Meiners, E. R. (2011). Ending the school-to-prison pipeline/building abolition futures. The Urban Review, 43(4), 547–565.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Mendel, R. A. (2010). No place for kids: The case for reducing juvenile incarceration. Baltimore, MD: The Annie E. Casey Foundation. Scholar
  57. Meyer, I., Flores, A., Stemple, L., Romero, A., Wilson, B. D. M., & Herman, J. (2017). Incarceration Rates and Traits of Sexual Minorities in the United States: National Inmate Survey, 2011–2012. American Journal of Public Health, 107(2), 234–240.Google Scholar
  58. Mitchell, R. C., Panzarello, A., Grynkiewicz, A., & Galupo, M. P. (2015). Sexual minority and heterosexual former foster youth: A comparison of abuse experiences and trauma-related beliefs. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services, 27(1), 1–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Mitchum, P., & Moodie-Mills, A. C. (2014). Beyond bullying: How hostile school climate perpetuates the school-to-prison pipeline for LGBT youth. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress. Scholar
  60. Mogul, J. L., Ritchie, A. J., & Whitlock, K. (2011). Queer (in) justice: The criminalization of LGBT people in the United States (Vol. 5). Boston, MA: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  61. Mountz, S. E. (2016). That’s the sound of the police state-sanctioned violence and resistance among LGBT young people previously incarcerated in girls’ juvenile justice facilities. Affilia: Journal of Women and Social Work, 31(3), 287–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Nanda, J. (2011). Blind discretion: Girls of color & delinquency in the juvenile justice system. UCLA Law Review, 59, 1502.Google Scholar
  63. Pasko, L. (2010). Damaged daughters: The history of girls’ sexuality and the juvenile justice system. The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 100(3), 1099–1130.Google Scholar
  64. Pasko, L. (2008). The wayward girl revisited: Understanding the gendered nature of juvenile justice and delinquency. Sociology Compass, 2(3), 821–836.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Perry, M. H. (2011). Sister citizen: Shame, stereotypes, and black women in America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  66. Piquero, A. R. (2008). Disproportionate minority contact. The Future of Children, 18(2), 59–79.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  67. Poteat, V. P., Scheer, J. R., & Chong, E. S. (2016). Sexual orientation-based disparities in school and juvenile justice discipline: A multiple group comparison of contributing factors. Journal of Educational Psychology, 108(2), 229.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Richardson, L. S., & Goff, P. A. (2014). Interrogating Racial Violence. Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, 12, 115–152.Google Scholar
  69. Richie, B. (2005). Queering antiprison work. In J. Sudbury (Ed.). Global lockdown: Race gender, and the prison industrial complex (pp. 73–86). New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
  70. Roberts, A. L., Rosario, M., Corliss, H. L., Koenen, K. C., & Austin, S. B. (2012). Childhood gender nonconformity: a risk indicator for childhood abuse and posttraumatic stress in youth. Pediatrics, 129(3), 410–417.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  71. Robinson, A. (2017). The forgotten intersection: Black LGBTQ/GNC youth in juvenile detention in the United States. In L.D. Follins & J.M. Lassiter (Eds.), Black LGBT Health in the United States: The Intersection of Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation (pp.11–23). London, United Kingdom: Lexington Books.Google Scholar
  72. Ryan, C., Huebner, D., Diaz, R. M., & Sanchez, J. (2009). Family rejection as a predictor of negative health outcomes in white and Latino lesbian, gay, and bisexual young adults. Pediatrics, 123(1), 346–352.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  73. Saar, M. S., Epstein, R., Rosenthal, L., & Vafa, Y. (2015). The sexual abuse to prison pipeline: The girls’ story. Washington, DC: Human Rights Project for Girls and Center for Poverty and Inequality at Georgetown University Law Center. Scholar
  74. Sedlak, A. J., McPherson, K. S., & Basena, M. (2013). Nature and risk of victimization: Findings from the survey of youth in residential placement. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. (Juvenile Justice Bulletin, NCJ Publication No. 240703).Google Scholar
  75. Sedlak, A. J., & McPherson, K. S. (2010). Conditions of confinement: Findings from the Survey of Youth in Residential Placement. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. (NCJ Publication No. 227729).Google Scholar
  76. Snapp, S. D., Hoenig, J. M., Fields, A., & Russell, S. T. (2015). Messy, butch, and queer LGBTQ youth and the school-to-prison pipeline. Journal of Adolescent Research, 30(1), 57–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Steffensmeier, D., Ulmer, J., & Kramer, J. (1998). The interaction of race, gender, and age in criminal sentencing: The punishment cost of being young, black, and male. Criminology, 36(4), 763–798.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Stokes, M. L., McCoy, K. P., Abram, K. M., Byck, G. R., & Teplin, L. A. (2015). Suicidal ideation and behavior in youth in the juvenile justice system: A review of the literature. Journal of Correctional Health Care, 21(3), 222–242.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  79. Teplin, L. A., Welty, L. J., Abram, K. M., Dulcan, M. K., & Washburn, J. J. (2012). Prevalence and persistence of psychiatric disorders in youth after detention. JAMA Psychiatry, 69, 1031–1043.Google Scholar
  80. Thompson, E. M., & Morgan, E. M. (2008). “Mostly straight” young women: Variations in sexual behavior and identity development. Developmental Psychology, 44(1), 15–21.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  81. Walters, M. L., Chen, J., & Breiding, M. J. (2013). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 findings on victimization by sexual orientation. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (NCJ Publication No. 241083).Google Scholar
  82. Weiss, K. G. (2008). Male sexual victimization: Examining men’s experiences of rape and sexual assault. Men and Masculinities, 12(3), 275–298.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. W. Hayward Burns Institute. (2016). Stemming the rising tide: Racial & ethnic disparities in youth incarceration & strategies for change. Oakland, CA: W. Hayward Burns Institute. Scholar
  84. Wilkinson, W. W. (2008). Threatening the patriarchy: Testing an explanatory paradigm of anti-lesbian attitudes. Sex Roles, 59(7–8), 512–520.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Wilson, B. D. M., Harper, G. W., Hidalgo, M. A., Jamil, O. B., Torres, R. S., & Isabel Fernandez, M., Adolescent Medicine Trials Network for HIV/AIDS Interventions. (2010). Negotiating dominant masculinity ideology: Strategies used by gay, bisexual and questioning male adolescents. American Journal of Community Psychology, 45, 169–185. doi: 10.1007/s10464-009-9291-3.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  86. Wilson, B. D. M., & Kastanis, A. A. (2015). Sexual and gender minority disproportionality and disparities in child welfare: A population-based study. Children and Youth Services Review, 58, 11–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Woods, J. B. (2014). Queer contestations and the future of a critical “queer” criminology. Critical Criminology, 22(1), 5–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Woronoff, R., Estrada, R., Sommer, S., & Marzullo, M. A. (2006). Out of the margins: A report on regional listening forums highlighting the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth in care. Washington, DC: Child Welfare League of America and New York, NY: Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of LawUniversity of CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA
  2. 2.Social Welfare DepartmentUniversity of CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA
  3. 3.Mills College, Government ProgramOaklandUSA

Personalised recommendations