Case Study

LGBT/HIV Federal Criminal Justice Policy Working Group

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and people living with HIV (PLWH) are overrepresented in all aspects of the penal system, from policing, to adjudication, to incarceration, to release. The high rates of LGBT people and PLWH in criminal and juvenile justice systems are a byproduct of legacies of criminalization, and continuing discrimination in employment, education, social services, health care, and responses to violence.

The policing of gender and sexuality pervades law enforcement and the operation of courts and the penal system. High levels of family rejection, homelessness, bias in foster care and social safety net programs, and bias in school discipline policies result in the disproportionate channeling of LGBT youth into the juvenile justice system. The policing of people living with HIV in the US exceeds that in the rest of the world combined, resulting in arrest, prosecution and incarceration. Today, 32 states and two U.S. territories have laws that criminalize otherwise legal behavior, such as consensual sex, when an individual is living with HIV.

The LGBT/HIV Criminal Justice Working Group (hereafter Working Group) is an advocacy coalition of nearly 40 organizations committed to criminal justice policy reform and advocacy on behalf of LGBTQ people in criminal justice systems.

Just Detention International


Just Detention International and the LGBT/HIV Criminal Justice Policy Working Group


To organize and support the LGBT/HIV Federal Criminal Justice Policy Working Group


The Vaid Group organizes and supports the LGBT/HIV Working Group, a national advocacy coalition founded in 2014. Our role involves convening, coalition building, fundraising, policy analysis and development, advocacy strategy, and direct support in advocacy efforts.

The Working Group was launched after a year-long convening, research and policy development process involving more than 50 groups, which produced a set of recommendations for federal policy action and published a report titled A Roadmap for Change: Federal Policy Recommendations Addressing the Criminalization of LGBT People and People living with HIV.

A startling 73% of LGBT people and PLWH surveyed in a recent Lambda Legal study reported face-to-face contact with police during the five years prior to the survey. Five percent of these respondents reported having spent time in jail or prison, a rate that is markedly higher than the 2.7% of the U.S. adult population who have ever been in prison.

According to the 2014 report of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, 27% of LGBTQ victims of hate violence received hostile treatment from police to whom they reported incidents; transgender women were 6 times more likely to experience physical police violence. LGBT people of color, transgender people, and young people bear the brunt of negative interactions with police.

Data from the National Transgender Discrimination Survey reported that 16% of transgender adults surveyed had been in prison or jail. A major study of youth in juvenile detention found that 13-15% are LGBT, while a major study of youth in foster care in LA County found 19% were LGBT.

Federal research documents that more than 200,000 people are sexually abused in prisons, jails, and juvenile and immigration detention centers. LGBT people in detention are three times more likely to report sexual abuse, and transgender women experience the highest risk of sexual abuse of any population in confinement facilities. A 2007 study of California prisons found that transgender women placed in men’s prisons were 13 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than non-transgender prisoners. The first-ever survey of LGBT incarcerated people by Working Group member Black and Pink, released in October of 2015, reports the overuse of solitary confinement and high level of discrimination and harassment.

The Working Group’s current areas of focus include: corrections (Federal Bureau of Prisons, and state prison systems and jails); policing and law enforcement practices; immigration detention; Juvenile Justice; HIV issues and HIV criminalization; prisoner re-entry; sex offender registry reform; broad criminal justice reform and decarceration.


The Working Group is the national LGBTQ advocacy coalition on criminal justice reform. It is a source of data and analysis on the experience of LGBT people in various parts of the criminal justice system. Members of this advocacy network offer unique expertise and are leading experts nationally on criminal justice policy issues facing LGBT people and people living with HIV.

The Working Group successfully advocated with the Justice Department and the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing to secure recommendations that address police harassment of queer and trans communities. It initiated high-level engagement with the Federal Bureau of Prisons to change treatment of transgender prisoners, and to reduce the use of solitary confinement. The Working Group advocated for and created guidelines on LGBTI inclusive and supportive sexual health care and sexual health literacy programs in prisons and detention centers. It developed recommendations and a consensus statement to address criminal justice issues in the NHAS 2020 Strategy and Action Plan, and worked with the Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) to educate around the misue of criminal laws against PLWH.

Legislative and policy priorities include the End Racial Profiling Act (which includes SOGI issues); the reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act; inclusion of provisions that address sexual orientation and gender identity and add non-discrimination language to all relevant criminal justice bills; reduction in over-policing of young LGBT people and transgender people; reduction in use of incarceration and increase in the use of alternatives; support for prisoner re-entry programs; reduction in use of solitary confinement; elimination of the bed quote for immigration detainees; reduction in use of detention for transgender immigrants; and elimination of HIV criminalization statutes (which are contrary to public health).

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