Grassroots and National LGBT and Criminal Justice Advocates Come Together to Deliver LGBT Criminal Justice Policy Agenda to Obama Administration
Washington, D.C. -- Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and people living with HIV (PLWH) face pervasive discrimination at all stages of the criminal legal system, from policing, to adjudication, to incarceration, according to a new report published by the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law at Columbia Law School and co-authored by The Center for HIV Law & Policy, the Center for American Progress and Streetwise & Safe (SAS).
The report, A Roadmap for Change: Federal Policy Recommendations for Addressing the Criminalization of LGBT People and People with HIV, is one of the first to offer comprehensive federal policy recommendations to address cycles of criminalization and discriminatory treatment faced PLWH and LGBT people. Co-authored by Catherine Hanssens, Aisha-Moodie Millis, Andrea Ritchie, Dean Spade and Urvashi Vaid, with input from more than 50 legal, advocacy and grassroots organizations working on LGBT and criminal justice policy, the report provides an extensive outline 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.
“The principles that define our nation’s character do not tolerate racial bias, nor do they tolerate bias against members of any community,” says Ben Jealous, former President of the NAACP who contributed the preface for the report. “Existing research indicates that LGBTQ people and PLWHA are overrepresented in all aspects of the penal system. This roadmap contains recommendations for federal policy change that would represent important steps toward preventing and addressing the impacts of the crisis of mass incarceration on LGBTQ people – a crisis that is too often ignored, even by people of good conscience.”
A startling 73% of all LGBT people and PLWH recently surveyed have had face-to-face contact with police during the past five years, according to a report from Lambda Legal. For LGBT people of color, more than a third of these interactions featured some form of harassment or abuse. Five percent of these respondents also report having spent time in jail or prison, a rate that is markedly higher than the nearly 3% of the U.S. adult population who are under some form of correctional supervision (jail, prison, probation, or parole) at any point in time.
“I never imagined how different my life would be because of my arrest and incarceration,” says David Plunkett, who served six years in prison for an HIV related offense. “From then until now I should have been able to focus on my health and career, not battling a system that incarcerates those who live with a chronic illness, and remains uninformed about the nature and transmission of the HIV virus.”
“The United States arrests and prosecutes more people on the basis of their HIV status than the rest of the world combined, “ noted Catherine Hanssens, Founder and Executive Director of The Center for HIV Law and Policy and a co-author of the report. “The policies that drive these arrests spring from profoundly phobic misconceptions about the actual routes, risks and consequences of HIV transmission, and federal health officials’ refusal to promote frank, accurate information about sex, sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Dr. Wendy Armstrong, member of the board of directors of the HIV Medicine Association of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, says, “HIV criminal laws do nothing to advance individual or public health, but rather enhance stigma, embrace blame, discourage testing and have the potential to corrupt the physician-patient relationship.”
A unique aspect of this report was its collaborative development. “This report represents an innovative and unprecedented collaboration among groups who normally do not work together and serves as a reminder that while tactics may occasionally differ, our end goal is ultimately the same: to end the needless criminalization of LGBT people and PLWH,” said Urvashi Vaid, co-author and publisher of the report at Columbia Law School’s Center for Gender & Sexuality Law. The Center and report co-authors convened 50 activists, policy advocates, lawyers, and grassroots organizations in May of 2013 and consulted widely with many others to develop this report, including currently and previously incarcerated individuals.