LGBTQ+ Special Needs Offenders

Category: Criminology
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The LGBTQ+ special needs offenders group includes persons who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual or questioning/queer. These persons are typically housed with the general population while incarcerated either because they are “passing” as heterosexual or due to extremely limited access to separate housing based off sexual orientation (Brydum 2014). After researching, there seems to not be any specific nationwide prisons simply for LGBTQ+ offenders however there are some local or county detention facilities that do have wings of jails designated for these individuals. Specifically, the Los Angeles County Men’s Central Jail houses gay and transgender inmates separately from the general population. While investigating the experiences and statistics of LGBTQ+ offenders prison life, it is apparent the most central issues surrounding this group pertain to power assertion, sexual assault, and institutionalized obstacles. These issues are described and evaluated to better understand the LGBTQ+ special need offenders prison and post-prison experiences.

Social Hierarchy: Relationships between Power and Sexuality

A unique trait of the LGBTQ+ special need offenders group is their in-prison caste system based on masculinity, dominance, aggression, and sexuality. These factors determine the social hierarchy of male and female inmates and determine their in-prison socio-economic mobility and lifestyles. For example, inmates who exchange loyalty and commissary for sexual acts and vice versa use these transactions for protection from other inmates or staying in favor with higher, socially ranking inmates (Gideon, 2013, p. 236-240). This social hierarchy of LGBTQ+ offenders illustrates the relationship between masculinity and power with sexual assault in prisons. Gideon (2013) explains the hierarchy is maintained by inmates (usually wolves in male prisons or a butch/stud in female prisons) who reinforce their dominant masculinities by aggressive acts, sexual assault, and prison rape, thereby perpetuating the rape culture in prisons. Therefore, prison rape culture has more to do with power than sex (Gideon, 2013, p. 238).

This dynamic between power and sexual activity is also reflected in another form. After conducting a research project in the 1980s to investigate the relationship between homosexual activity and sexual aggression, the findings showed a connection between differing levels of security institutions and homosexual behavior. The project illustrated how lower security institutions with less dangerous crime committing offenders presented lower rates of homosexual activity with 12% reported, whereas prisons with more dangerous offenders and higher security institutions showed much higher rates of homosexual activity with 30% (Gideon, 2013, p. 241). This link provides insight that more violent crime committing offenders in these higher security prisons have higher rates of homosexual activity, and since displays of power and sex are connected in these environments, rape culture is evident amongst LGBTQ+ and non-heterosexual persons in prison.

Targeting LGBTQ+ Inmates: Incarceration Issues, PREA, and Solutions

Sexual orientation of inmates is a unique challenge to incarceration. Gay and lesbian inmates are of a special group that is especially vulnerable as “they are more likely to engage in consensual same-sex sexual activity and therefore are at a greater risk of being sexually victimized” (Gideon, 2013, p. 235). However, LGBTQ+ inmates have higher risks of victimization (Gideon, 2013, p. 246-247). There is a direct relationship between sexual orientation and victimization proven by the findings of a research project that states, “homosexual men reported experiencing higher rates of victimization” compared to heterosexual inmates (Jenness & Summer, 2013, p. 233-234). More specifically of LGBTQ+ offenders, transsexual, transgender, and openly gay inmates that identified as such before incarceration are more likely to be targeted and experience assault or sexual assault than the other identities within the LGBTQ+ group in both male and female prisons (Brydum 2014).

To combat the high rates of sexual assault and deter from continuing prison rape culture in men and women’s prisons, the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) made by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2003 mandated that the National Institute of Corrections set up a national clearinghouse to provide education and training to all correctional administrators nationwide to detect, prevent, and respond accordingly to reports of sexual assault (Gideon, 2013, 246). This policy is based on a zero-tolerance approach towards rape and has legislative backing to withhold federal funds that force states to comply with national standards. PREA is designed to address both inmate on inmate and staff on inmate sexual assaults (Gideon, 2013, p. 246). However, despite this policy intervention a study in 2010 found that 3% of inmates reported an incident of staff on inmate misconduct. That percentage is approximately 41,200 male and female inmates annually who still experience sexual misconduct by staff in prisons (Gideon, 2013, p. 249).

An apparent thought would be to segregate non-heterosexual inmates from their heterosexual counterparts in hopes of deterring targeted sexual assault on LGBTQ+ inmates. However, in addition to being a high financial cost and minor solution it would do more psychological harm as this pushes a punishing-the-victim narrative by isolating the would-be victims while the perpetrators and assaulters enjoy normal prison life. Instead, doing the opposite and segregating the predators from the general public would both protect those typically targeted in the LGBTQ+ group and punish the attackers (Gideon, 2013, p. 251). This change in narrative would be taken more seriously by correctional administrators to refrain from staff on inmate assault and by inmates that this behavior is unacceptable, comparable to the desired zero tolerance policy of the PREA.

Towards the end of the Gay and Lesbian Inmates chapter, Gideon (2013) describes two other areas of possible solutions to the general issue of sexual assault and policy suggestions for LGBTQ+ inmates in prison. These two solutions are inmate orientation programs and conjugal visits. He suggests these already existing orientation programs need more comprehensive training to address and deter attitudes that blame and underplay the victims (Gideon, 2013, p. 250). Although sex in prison is not permitted, Gideon (2013) highlights arguments that conjugal visits address inmates’ sexual deprivation and could lead to decreased sexual assault and violence. These two methods could lower victimization rates of LGBTQ+ inmates by absolving inmates’ sexual deprivation and thus lessen targeting of LGBTQ+ inmates as a means of sexual release.

Special Issues: Recidivism

Given the high rates of sexual assault reported by LGBTQ+ people in prisons, the trauma they experience while in prison can also have substantial, debilitating impacts on their ability to rebuild their lives after they are released (Knight & Wilson, 2016, p. 87-90). For inmates who were assaulted in prison, lived in fear of victimization, or witnessed violence, the impact can be psychologically harmful. In a survey of 1,600 formerly incarcerated LGBTQ+ inmates taken over a two-and-a-half-year period, researchers found that inmates who reported sexual victimization while in prison had a higher recidivism rate of 53% compared to 45% who were not sexually assaulted (Knight & Wilson, 2016, p. 95-98). Moreover, these inmates were also more likely to struggle during parole, receiving violations or having their parole revoked or terminated.

Community Issues: Intolerance and Overlapping SNO

In chapter eight, Gideon describes religion and race as the most notable variables to predict homosexual behavior in male prisons. He explains Protestant and non-white inmates are less likely to engage in homosexual behavior (Gideon, 2013, p. 242). This speaks to racial and cultural divisions among homosexual acceptance and tolerance out of prison. Offenders that go into prison heterosexual but come out having experienced homosexual activity or become homosexual or bisexual are more likely to experience unacceptance or further isolation from their family and loved ones (Knight & Wilson, 2016, p. 101-103).

Unlike male prisons, the main predictors for homosexual activity in female prisons are age and length of time served. These predictors overlap with elderly or geriatric special needs offenders as women who are serving longer sentences in prison are more likely than women with shorter sentences to engage in same-sex activity (Gideon, 2013, p. 213-215, 245). This shows the link between an inmate’s sentence length to the likelihood of engaging in homosexual activity for

women in prison. Heterosexual inmates with shorter sentences are less likely to engage in homosexual activity as their time to see their partners outside prison is more of an approaching reality than those heterosexual inmates serving much longer or life sentences.

An additional area of overlap for LGBTQ+ offenders is with chronically ill offenders when these inmates have contracted HIV, as many of these chronically ill inmates also self-identify within the non-heterosexual population (Gideon, 2013, p. 121-123 & 251). Since LGBTQ+ offenders are at higher risks of contracting HIV through sexual assault, the consequences of sexual victimization include increased sexual violence and spreading HIV in and out of prison (Gideon, 2013, p. 235). This is an issue for the community because LGBTQ+ offenders with HIV can further spread the disease to other LGBTQ+ people, increasing the rate of HIV contracted LGBTQ+ persons and furthering the stereotype that LGBTQ+ people have or are affiliated with HIV.

Another community issue for LGBTQ+ people after prison life is the impact sexual assault and prison rape have on these offenders and thereby the LGBTQ+ community. Psychological effects from sexual assault and victimization on LGBTQ+ inmates while in prison affect their rehabilitation. Whether real or just an unrealized fear, “being sexually assaulted during the completion of their prison sentences is not conducive to their rehabilitation,” and since most inmates will be released the consequences of prison rape also affect LGBTQ+ society (Gideon, 2013, p. 235).


After researching the LGBTQ+ special need offenders group’s experiences and statistics, it was unexpected how much targeting and victimization goes on in and towards this group from other inmates and prison staff. However, what was most unnerving was the lack of deterrence and the abundance of institutional roadblocks that go unchecked to relieving LGBTQ+ offenders of the sexual violence that goes on in both male and female prisons. Sexual assault is a physical problem for LGBTQ+ inmates yet is also perpetuated by systemic problems. It is one thing to be of the LGBTQ+ community out of prison, but to go in as such is a whirlwind of physical and mental support issues that need correction.


  1. Byrdum, S. (2014, November 18). Go Inside the Gay and Trans Wing of L.A. Men’s Central Jail. Retrieved from
  2. Gideon, 2013, , L. (2013). Special Needs Offenders in Correctional Institutions.
  3. Knight, C., & Wilson, K. (2016). LGBT People as Offenders within the Criminal Justice System. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans People (LGBT) and the Criminal Justice System,85-111. doi:10.1057/978-1-137-49698-0_5
  4. Sumner, J., & Jenness, V. (2013). Gender Integration in Sex-Segregated U.S. Prisons: The Paradox of Transgender Correctional Policy. Handbook of LGBT Communities, Crime, and Justice,229-259. doi:10.1007/978-1-4614-9188-0_12
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LGBTQ+ Special Needs Offenders. (2021, Mar 10). Retrieved from

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