Incarceration Rate of LGB People Three Times the General Population

Incarceration Rate of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual People Three Times the General Population    

Over 40% of incarcerated women are sexual minorities

Los Angeles, CA – A new study by scholars at the Williams Institute found that sexual minorities are incarcerated at disproportionately high rates, and once incarcerated they are more likely to experience mistreatment, harsh punishment, and sexual victimization. Approximately 238,000 sexual minorities are incarcerated in the United States. The nationwide incarceration rate of sexual minorities was previously unknown.

“Mass incarceration in the United States cannot be addressed without considering the over incarceration of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people,” said Williams Distinguished Senior Scholar Ilan H. Meyer, PhD.

The new study, Incarceration Rates and Traits of Sexual Minorities in the United States: National Inmate Survey, 2011–2012, is the first to consider incarcerated sexual minority men and women separately.  Published in the American Journal of Public Health, it is co-authored by Ilan H. Meyer, PhD, Andrew R. Flores, PhD, Lara Stemple, JD, Adam P. Romero, JD, Bianca D.M. Wilson, PhD, and Jody L. Herman, PhD.

Findings include:

  • Sexual minorities, defined as people who self-identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) and people who do not identify as LGB but reported a same-sex sexual experience, were disproportionately incarcerated: 9.3 percent of men in prison, 6.2 percent of men in jail, 42.1 percent of women in prison, and 35.7 percent of women in jail were sexual minorities.
  • Lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals make up about 3.5 percent of the U.S. general population but 5.5 percent of men in prisons are gay or bisexual and 33.3 percent of women in prison are lesbian or bisexual.
  • Among the approximately 238,000 sexual minorities held in prisons and jails, there are approximately 94,900 gay and bisexual men, 69,600 MSM (men who have sex with men but do not identify as gay/bisexual), 56,400 lesbian and bisexual women, and 17,000 WSW (women who have sex with women but do not identify as lesbian or bisexual).
  • This corresponds to an incarceration rate of 1,882 per 100,000 LGB people, or 2,368 per 100,000 gay or bisexual men and 1,399 per 100,000 lesbians or bisexual women. By comparison, the general incarceration rate is 612 per 100,000 U.S. adults over age 18.
  • Compared with straight inmates, sexual minorities were more likely to have been sexually victimized as children, to have been sexually victimized while incarcerated, to have experienced solitary confinement and other sanctions, and to report current psychological distress.

“I hope this research also raises awareness of the heightened risk that sexual minority populations face for sexual victimization, isolation, disproportionate punishment, and distress,” said researcher Dr. Ilan H. Meyer.  “We need to understand more about the pathways that lead to greater incarceration of LGB people and whether biases ingrained in the criminal justice system lead to sexual minorities being treated differently than heterosexuals.”

Researchers drew their data from the National Inmate Survey, 2011–2012, a probability sample of inmates in U.S. prisons and jails mandated by the prison rape elimination act of 2003.


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