A report by the Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) suggests that conditions facing gay teenagers in prisons are worse than those for straight teenagers.
Mie Lewis, who wrote the report said; “New York wants to hide the fate of the girls it incarcerates. Abuses have continued because the public has been kept in the dark”.
The report looked at two correctional facilities for juveniles, Tryon and Lansing, which are part of New York State’s prison service. They are run by the New York Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS), and are the only higher security facilities in the state that are specifically for girls. Most inmates are 15 or 16, though some can be as young as 12.
Former inmates were interviewed along with current inmates to build a comprehensive picture of prison life. From this data, the writers were able to catalogue a series of abuses, which, they claim, involve girls being “frequently and unnecessarily subjected to strip searches, verbal abuse and threats”, as well as being handcuffed and shackled whenever they leave the building. This is in violation of the OCFS’s regulations in all but emergency situations.
The report expressed concern that “staff sometimes use [these measures] to punish girls for minor acts such as improperly making their beds or not raising their hands before speaking.” Typical injuries sustained from violent restraint include “rug burns – abrasions on their faces – as well as cuts, bruises, and in rare cases a concussion or a broken limb.”
Though the report paints a shocking picture of prison life for these young and vulnerable people, it also suggests that conditions for lesbian teenagers are even worse.
One girl who was 15 when she was imprisoned in Lansing said; “If you’re gay they think you think you’re a man, so they restrain you harder. They have an attitude of ‘If you want to be a man, I’ll restrain you like a man.’ That place [Lansing] was unstable. I was restrained 10 or 12 times.”
Following an investigation, last year the ACLU sued the State of Hawaii over abuses of LGBT teenagers in correctional facilities. The State eventually agreed to pay over $600 000 to end the lawsuit after a judge found that conditions at the facility were “in a state of chaos”.
It is not yet known whether similar legal proceedings will take place in this instance.