LGBT inmates face increased abuse and discrimination

The criminal justice system excessively targets and then poorly treats Americans who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, according to a new report by the Movement Advancement Project (MAP).

Nearly 4 percent of the country’s adult population identifies as LGBT, yet almost 8 percent of inmates in state and federal jails identify as LGBT, the report said, citing federal statistics.

The report argues that LGBT people face social discrimination that can lead to homelessness and joblessness. As a result, they may turn to theft or selling drugs or sex to survive and then face discrimination in jail or prison.

Life inside can be harrowing.

About 12 percent of non-heterosexual inmates reported being sexually assaulted by another inmate, according to the report, which was authored by MAP, an LGBT-focused think tank, along with the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.

Nearly a quarter of transgender inmates reported being assaulted.

LGBT inmates are identified as a vulnerable population in the Prison Rape Elimination Act, which Congress passed in 2003 to study and reduce sexual assault in prison. It wasn’t until 2012 that final rules — which cover prevention and response to sexual assault and training for  staff — were published. That’s nearly a decade after Congress passed the law.

Only 11 states reported being in compliance with the law by the May 2015 deadline. Pennsylvania was not one of them, but the state promised to keep working toward compliance. The state Department of Corrections says it has zero tolerance for sexual abuse.

Aside from outright abuse, the MAP report says LGBT inmates also complain that they are poorly treated by corrections staff and then unfairly punished.

From the report:

Touching by or between LGBT people is often perceived by staff to be sexual and triggers a harsher response, when the same action by a non-LGBT person is not seen in the same way or is punished less harshly. As part of punishment for these behaviors, LGBT people are placed in isolation or solitary confinement or have food or medical care withheld.

Last week, Vice and The Marshall Project jointly published a first-person piece by Corbett Yost, a gay inmate serving time for an unarmed robbery in Michigan.

Yost claims he’s been mocked by staff and called homophobic slurs. After being threatened with a beating by a new cellmate, he said he refused to return to his cell and was taken to isolation while waiting for a hearing on a misconduct ticket. He was then punished after the hearing for failing “to convey to the officers that I was being threatened.”

Complaining about treatment by guards is no easier, Yost said, though there’s supposed to be a formalized process to do so.

According to his story:

When we have problems with staff, we are instructed to use the grievance process. I have filed numerous grievances about staff who have called me “fag” and other derogatory names, but the result is always the same: The administration states that the staff member adamantly denies my accusations.

The MAP report calls for reforms to reduce the number of inmates confined for long terms for non-violent crimes and for prisons to improve their response to sexual assault, implement non-discrimination training and to improve medical care, among numerous other recommendations.

Reach Jeffrey Benzing at 412-315-0265 or at jbenzing@publicsource.org. Follow him on Twitter @jabenzing.