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  2. Juvenile Justice

Juvenile Justice

LGBT youth represent at least 13 percent of the total detained population in the juvenile justice system.1 Some LGBT youth become involved in the system for violating laws for reasons unrelated to their sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. Others may become involved through pathways that are associated with their sexual orientation or gender identity/expression, such as

  • family rejection and subsequent homelessness, either because youth run away or are forced to leave their homes;
  • detention for consensual, age-appropriate, same-sex behavior; or
  • nonviolent survival acts while homeless.2

LGBT youth have the right to the same safe conditions and protection from harassment and violence within juvenile justice facilities as their peers3 within these settings. However, policies to prevent discrimination, bias, and harassment of LGBT youth are limited, and staff are often not trained to create a safe environment for LGBT youth.4 As a result, many of these youth experience a juvenile justice system that is biased and abusive. LGBT youth in juvenile justice settings may experience high levels of verbal, physical, or sexual abuse and humiliation from peers and adults. Rather than address these issues, staff often move LGBT youth to a more restrictive or isolated environment.5 LGBT youth may also be labeled as sex offenders despite no such history.6 It is important for juvenile justice facilities to establish policies that protect LGBT youth from harassment and discrimination and to ensure that staff are well trained in the unique experiences of LGBT youth to create safe, supportive environments for youth and appropriately address harassment and abuse.7

The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) requires correctional agencies to safely screen, classify, and house individuals who are LGBT or have intersex conditions. PREA mandates the reporting of any sexual behavior among residents and prohibits any sexual behavior by adolescents in residential programs. Even touching is reportable. Facilities are also responsible for providing access to appropriately trained professionals and medically necessary treatment when an individual requests medical care.


The getR.E.A.L (Recognize. Engage. Affirm. Love) initiative of the Center for the Study of Social Policy is designed to help transform child welfare policy and practice to promote the healthy development of all children and youth. It focuses on sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression (along with race, ethnicity, and disability) as part of the identity formation that occurs in adolescence. The getR.E.A.L name was crafted as a challenge to public systems working with children. It also provides lessons, implications, and a process for parents, caregivers, and all system-involved youth. The acronym is directed at all these stakeholders—and many others—as a means of meeting the initiative’s primary goal to improve the healthy sexual and identity development of all children and youth in child welfare systems.

A Guide for Understanding, Supporting, and Affirming LGBTQI2-S Children, Youth, and Families (PDF, 8 pages)
This guide, written by members of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Workgroup to Address the Needs of Children and Youth Who Are LGBTQI2-S and Their Families, provides information for service providers, educators, allies, and community members who seek to support the health and well-being of children and youth who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, or two-spirit (LGBTQI2-S) and their families. This guide can support efforts to promote full and affirming inclusion of LGBTQI2-S youth and families in communities and provider settings (e.g., child welfare, juvenile justice, mental health, schools). The guide’s last page includes a place for organizations to add their endorsement electronically. Both the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) and the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) have endorsed the guide. You can access the guide with the NASP and NASW endorsements through the guide link above.

National Institute of Corrections, U.S. Department of Justice
This library contains resources related to LGBT youth, with a specific section on “gender identity issues” as they relate to juvenile justice.

NDTAC Fact Sheet: Improving Services for Youth Who Are LGBT in Juvenile Justice Systems
Developed by the National Evaluation and Technical Assistance Center for the Education of Children and Youth Who Are Neglected, Delinquent or At-Risk (NDTAC) announces the release of the NDTAC Fact Sheet: Improving Services for Youth Who Are LGBT in Juvenile Justice Systems serves as a resource to enhance the capacity of state and local administrators and practitioners to improve policies and practices that promote the safe, inclusive treatment of youth who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) in juvenile justice systems. The document explores the experiences of youth who are LGBT generally, their entry into juvenile justice systems and their experiences in these systems, and recommendations for policy and practice. Additional resources to improve juvenile justice services are presented at the end of the document.

Policy Review and Development Guide: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex Persons in Custodial Settings (PDF, 79 pages)
This guide from the National Institute of Corrections includes information that will help adult correctional facilities and juvenile justice agencies assess, develop, and improve policies and practices for LGBT and intersex individuals in their custody.

Serving LGBT Victims of Crime
This training curriculum created by the Office of Victims of Crime provides advocates and professionals with knowledge to support the LGBTQ population.


1 Majd, Marksamer, & Reyes, 2009
2 Majd et al., 2009
3 Estrada & Marksamer, 2006
4 Estrada & Marksamer, 2006; National Center for Lesbian Rights, 2006
5 Estrada & Marksamer, 2006; Majd et al., 2009; National Center for Lesbian Rights, 2006
6 Estrada & Marksamer, 2006; Majd et al., 2009
7 Estrada & Marksamer, 2006; National Center for Lesbian Rights, 2006

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