Criminal Justice System Harsher For LGBT Youth

Nonheterosexual youth “are vulnerable to health risks, including addiction, bullying and familial abuse.” Researchers examined whether these teenagers and youth also suffered a disproportionate number of punishments and reprimands at school or at the hands of the law. These adolescents were found to be at a higher risk of being intercepted by the police, being thrown out of school, being arrested and convicted as teenagers and as adults. Girls were victimized more often than boys. The authors conclude that, “Nonheterosexual youth suffer disproportionate educational and criminal-justice punishments that are not explained by greater engagement in illegal or transgressive behaviors.”

“Nonheterosexual adolescents often face discrimination” at home, in school and in the society. They run a high risk not only of addiction but also of bullying and abuse by family members. As a result, these teenagers may suffer from depression and may also engage in high-risk sexual and substance-use behaviors. They may carry weapons (often as a precaution against assault) and engage in petty crimes as a result of being homeless. There have been no previous studies that show whether these adolescents are victimized more often in school and in criminal justice sanctions. In this study, researchers attempted to find if these adolescents were disproportionately reprimanded by school or judicial authorities.

•    Researchers collated data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, comprising youth from grades 7 to 12 during the 1994-1995 school year, including a total of 20,747 adolescents initially.
•    The full study was conducted in three phases from 1994 to 2002. The first wave included one home interview and the second wave involved a special use of headsets to gather sensitive information.  The third wave, conducted in 2001–2002 when the respondents were aged 18 to 26 years, involved asking questions regarding criminal justice contact.
•    In wave one, there were a total of 20,747 adolescents. Wave two involved 14,738 participants remnant from wave one, and wave three involved 15,170 of the wave one respondents.

•    Nonheterosexuality was significantly and consistently associated with a higher (between one and three times) risk of school and criminal-justice penalties, compared to heterosexual teenagers.
•    Lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB) teenagers had greater odds of being hauled in by police. They also faced more expulsions from schools, arrests and even conviction as teenagers or later as adults. The higher risk of conviction and punishments were not due to more illegal behavior among these adolescents.
•    Girls were more at risk than boys.

Since the study was based on self-identification, more males who were nonheterosexual tended to identify themselves compared to females. Multiple testing of these teenagers and youth may have led to some amount of distortion in the findings. One of the major limitations of the study was thought to be the relatively small number of sanctions and convictions in spite of the large sample of adolescents. This could lead to erroneous conclusions. Also, racial subgroups could not be evaluated in the study due to inadequate representation from all groups.

The authors say their findings indicate that lesbian, gay and bisexual teenagers face a greater number of interceptions and reprimands from the authorities at school and the judicial system. This situation reflects poorly on school authorities as well as the judicial system. It also shows a lack of understanding of the needs of LGBT teenagers, on the part of healthcare systems that look after youths. On the basis of this study, the authors urge the health and child-serving professionals to devise methods and plans that will help reduce “criminalization of nonheterosexual youth as they navigate adolescence in an often hostile society.”

For More Information
Criminal-Justice and School Sanctions against Nonheterosexual Youth
Publication Journal: Pediatrics, December 2010
By Kathryn E. W. Himmelstein, Hannah Brückner; Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.
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