July 12, 2010 11:16 AM (PT)
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth in prisons and jails are among our country's most vulnerable people — and what's more, they're virtually invisible to mainstream society.
Photo Credit: Erin MC Hammer
GritTV checked in this week on the issue of LGBT young people behind bars and brought us one of the more thoughtful (and frightening) presentations of the issues I've seen in a while. (Watch the full episode after the jump.) As their episode reveals, the treatment of LGBT youth in prison brings into focus a dangerous mix of many of our prison system's worst flaws.
We frequently cover the issue of sexual assault in prison, and LGBT youth are among the most victimized populations behind bars. Juveniles are vulnerable in adult prisons — or in any prison, for that matter — and LGBT youth are often the most vulnerable of that group.
But this week, GritTV guests Gabrielle Prisco and Daniel Redman didn't focus only on juvenile issues or prison rape. Instead, they connected important dots on this issue: to homelessness, to the school-to-prison pipeline and the severely excessive use of solitary confinement for our most vulnerable prisoners.
In his excellent recent Nation article, Redman tells the stories of terrified young people — often in need of help — who find themselves in the most hostile environments imaginable. LGBT youth make up 15% of the juvenile prison population, he reports, and they report 12 times the number of sexual assaults as straight youth do.
The problem of abused LGBT youth in prison forces us to think not only about broader issues of sexual assault in prison, but also on alternatives to locking up juveniles.
Many LGBT youth end up in prison because they've run away from abusive situations. They're behind bars for stealing for food or drugs. Prison isn't the place to deal with these issues — social services, foster care and alternative education are what's needed to redirect such youth before they end up in trouble. And for LGBT youth who end up incarcerated, we need to make sure that we enact and follow the guidelines developed by the federal Prison Rape Elimination Commission to stop prison rape.
Thousands of Change.org members are taking two key actions this week that could have a direct impact on LGBT youth behind bars. First, we're calling on Congress to renew and expand critical juvenile justice programs. Second, we're urging Attorney Eric Holder to stop stalling and enact standards to prevent sexual assault behind bars. Will you join us?
Matt Kelley is the Online Communications Manager at the Innocence Project and a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.