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Justice in Reentry for Formerly Incarcerated LGBTQ People and People Living With HIV

Center for American Progress: Theo Santos - April 23, 2021

Incarceration has far-reaching and often devastating consequences for system-involved individuals, their families, and their communities. Formerly incarcerated people face barriers to employment, housing, health, and education. These barriers deny them the ability to meet basic needs, push them back into incarceration, and remove opportunities for stability and advancement. For formerly incarcerated LGBTQ people, unique health care needs and ubiquitous discrimination compound and intersect with these barriers, presenting persistent challenges as people rebuild their lives after incarceration. Many people living with HIV, especially Black men and Black transgender women, are LGBTQ—and in general, people with HIV face rampant, racially targeted criminalization and are underserved by health care systems.

Sexual minorities are incarcerated at a rate three times higher than the general U.S. incarceration rate, and transgender people are also incarcerated at disproportionate rates, with Black transgender women incarcerated at approximately 10 times the rate of the general population incarceration rate. Meanwhile, the factors driving the disproportionate criminalization of LGBTQ people—such as labor and housing market exclusion, the criminalization of sex work, and structural bias in the criminal legal system—continue to harm people after incarceration and lead to further system involvement.

Efforts to end this criminalization must be complemented by adequate and affirming reentry processes. Support for formerly incarcerated people as they reenter their communities is critical to helping them meet their basic needs and reducing the risk of future system involvement. However, existing reentry policies and programs can be inaccessible or actively harmful in a variety of ways to LGBTQ people and people living with HIV. Policymakers can begin to address these harms through reforms and the provision of sufficient, targeted, and culturally competent support.

System Involvement After Incarceration

State control over the lives of formerly incarcerated people does not end at the prison gate. Upon release, people are often subject to probation and parole. During this period, their movements and choices are restricted by law enforcement. Officials have used these arrangements to prevent transgender people from accessing basic services, such as sex-segregated shelters, or dressing in accordance with their gender identity. Travel restrictions limit people’s access to medical care, housing options, and employment opportunities—and for populations experiencing discrimination due to both system involvement and sexual orientation or gender identity (SOGI), accessible services can be uncommon and travel is often necessary. However, violation of any of these stringent terms can result in reincarceration.

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