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LGBTQ Community Reports Abuse in Criminal Justice System

For Jennifer Love Williams, the challenges of being a transgender woman in the criminal justice system became evident at 24, with her first public defender. Initially friendly, his demeanor transformed once he noticed the name on Williams’ documents did not match her appearance. Later, in her 30s, Williams spent six years in New Jersey corrections facilities, where, she said, officers and staff placed her in solitary confinement, called her derogatory names, mocked her appearance or berated her for not wearing a bra. Being subject to abuse while in criminal detention is a common experience for people who identify as LGBTQ+, two legal advocacy groups found in a national survey about the justice system, reports USA Today. The survey of more than 2,500 LGBTQ and HIV-positive people also found that few institutions inspired much trust, with nearly three in five saying they didn’t trust the prison system.


The findings were among those cited in a report by New York-based LGBTQ advocacy group Lambda Legal in partnership with Black and Pink, a national prison reform group serving LGBTQ+ people and individuals living with HIV. “Our community continues to experience violence and discrimination within the system,” said Richard Saenz, a senior attorney for Lambda Legal who managed the project. “It’s an urgent problem, and we know there isn’t just one solution.” The group’s “Protected and Served?” survey echoed one conducted in 2012, exploring participants’ trust in criminal legal institutions, including police and other law enforcement, prison and jails, courts, schools and other government agencies. More than half of those who took the survey had interacted with law enforcement in the previous five years, and nearly all (94.3%) of those detained in prison or jail within that period reported experiencing abuse of some kind, ranging from physical, verbal or sexual assault or harassment to being misgendered or falsely accused of an offense. Four in five (82%) reported being verbally assaulted by staff, while more than half reported being sexually harassed. More than half of transgender or nonbinary participants reported being placed in inmate housing inconsistent with their gender identity.

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