Why the JJDPA Matters for LGBT Youth

Sarah Munshi
October 22, 2013

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) students are overrepresented in the juvenile justice system.

According to the Center for American Progress, approximately 300,000 LGBT students are arrested or detained each year. Of that figure, 60 percent are black and Latino youth. The numbers are even more devastating when you compare the percentage of LGBT youth to the overall youth population. Although LGBT youth represent 5-7 percent of the nation’s youth population, they represent 13-15 percent of those in the juvenile justice system.

The increased levels of incarceration are a consequence of various issues; some of them interrelated, ranging from victimization in schools, to abandonment by families and communities.

Others are caught in the vicious cycle of the juvenile justice system because they identify as LGBT. They find themselves in juvenile detention facilities as a result of discrimination, abuse, and harassment in their schools. These situations which LGBT students encounter in schools force them to skip class or school all together to escape harassment in schools or out of fear for their own safety. 

GLSEN’s National School Climate Study found that approximately one-third of LGBT students have skipped school over safety concerns related to bullying or harassment. As a result, many LGBT youth end up in the courtroom on criminal charges because of being truant.

This is where the JJDPA comes in as a critical piece of legislation. Youth of color and LGBT youth of color continue to receive disparate treatment throughout the juvenile justice system, from arrest to adjudication to confinement.  The JJDPA will go a long way in ensuring that juveniles in the system are protected by federal standards for custody and for care, while also ensuring that the interests of community safety are met.

The JJDPA protects youth who have run away from home or skipped school from being detained in juvenile detention facilities. The JJDPA also has provisions designed to protect youth from psychological abuse, physical assault, and isolation by ensuring that youth are not detained in adult jails.

Finally, the JJDPA requires states to address the disproportionate contact of youth of color at all points in the juvenile justice system. With youth of color making up one-third of the total youth population but two-thirds of youth in contact with the juvenile justice systems, this provision requires states to gather information and assess the reason for disproportionate minority contact. All youth would benefit from the protections outlined in the JJDPA, particularly LGBT youth and LGBT youth of color.


Sarah Munshi is a Policy Associate for the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), a non-profit working to create a safe and supportive school climate for all children at the federal, state, and local level. Sarah holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Texas, as well as a Master's in Public Policy from the University of Chicago. Sarah previously worked at the National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL), providing research and training in the Committees of Education and Law, Justice, & Ethics to improve the effectiveness of African American state legislators across the states. She’s also worked as staffer on Capitol Hill for Congressman Gregory Meeks, where she handled a legislative portfolio consisting of education and international affairs.


This is part of the ACT4JJ Campaign's JJDPA Matters Blog Project, a 16-week series that launched Sept. 10, 2013. You can find the full series at the JJDPA Matters Action Center.