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LGBTQ Youths in the Juvenile Justice System

NCJ Number
Date Published
13 pages
This overview of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning ) youths in the juvenile justice system discusses the following topics: the number of LGBTQ youths in the juvenile justice system, risk and protective factors for problem behaviors among LBTQ youth, outcome evidence from evaluations of interventions on behalf of such youth, and recommendations for reform policies and practices that may benefit LBTQ youth.
Studies have suggested that LGBTQ youths are disproportionately involved in the juvenile justice system. They are more likely to be held in secure detention for truancy, warrants, probation violations, running away, and prostitution compared with their heterosexual peers; however, there are no differences when comparing the prevalence of detention for serious charges. Regarding risk and protective factors related to problem behaviors, LGBTQ youths face many of the same challenges related to adolescent development as heterosexual youth, but face additional issues related to their sexual orientation and gender identity, such as childhood sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, both within their families and peer groups. Protective factors for problem behaviors are primarily related to family acceptance. This leads to higher scores on self-esteem, social support, and general health, along with lower scores on depression, substance abuse, risky sexual behavior, and suicidal thoughts and attempts compared to similar youth who reported low levels of family acceptance. Some research has shown the importance of adapting treatment services that target the risk factors related to being a LGBTQ youth. Reforms have focused on changing how system-involved LGBTQ youths are treated and managed in the juvenile justice system. Additional research in this area is also recommended. 28 references