U.S. Criminal Justice System Discriminates Against LGBT People

A new report from the Center for American Progress lays out recommendations for changing the existing discriminatory patterns of incarceration that target LGBT and HIV-positive Americans.

BY Sunnivie Brydum

May 11 2014 7:17 AM ET

An exhaustive new report from the Center for American Progress and Columbia University makes wide-ranging recommendations on federal policy changes that should be adopted to combat the disproportionate incarceration of LGBT people and those living with HIV. 

Authored by Catherine Hanssens, Aisha-Moodie Millis, Andrea Ritchie, Dean Spade, and Urvashi Vaid, A Roadmap for Change: Federal Policy Recommendations for Addressing the Criminalization of LGBT People and People with HIV incorporated research and first-person accounts from more than 50 legal, advocacy, and grassroots organizations working with the communities most directly impacted by the discriminatory practices. 

The guidelines include detailed outlines of "policy measures that federal agencies can adopt to address discriminatory and abusive policing practices, improve conditions for LGBT prisoners and immigrants in detention, decriminalize HIV, and prevent LGBT youth and adults from coming in contact with the system in the first place," according to the Center for American Progress's blog post announcing the study. 

The 84-page report includes numerous recommendations on how state and local law enforcement can improve its treatment of LGBT people, including veterans, homeless people, and transgender individuals, as well as steps to take to combat the criminalization of HIV. 

But the most impactful portions of the brief for the lay-reader are the personal stories and forwards from LGBT people and those living with HIV that recount their own experiences with discrimination in the criminal justice system. The brief includes several forwards authored by Benjamin Todd Jealous, executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and CeCe McDonald, a transgender woman who spent 19 months in a men's prison after she pleaded guilty to manslaughter in what many believe was an act of self-defense. 

"I do not want to sensationalize my story as a black transwoman in prison," writes McDonald in the forward. "I was one of millions of people who are wrongfully put in jail; many of whom will never have the opportunity to tell their story.”

The brief makes a powerful effort to share the stories of McDonald and many others who have become victims of failed justice policies that end up targeting those they claim to protect. 

Read the entire report in PDF form here.

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