LGBT inmates report sexual victimization at much higher percentages

Amid the unfolding jail scandal in Baltimore right now, there are two things relevant to the gay community that I want to bring up.

I'm not sure if there are any connections between the two, or if one affects the other. But viewed together, they do present some interesting questions.

First: Non-heterosexual inmates in jails and prisons across the country reported a far greater degree of sexual victimization in the last two years than their straight counterparts, according to a study released by the U.S. Department of Justice last week.

Second: The state's powerful Black Guerrilla Family prison gang -- which apparently held an astounding degree of power and control at the Baltimore City Detention Center until the FBI moved in recently -- has a stated anti-gay stance.

The national statistics play out like this: Among the heterosexual population, 1.2 percent of state and federal prison inmates and 1.2 percent of jail inmates reported sexual victimization by another inmate.

Among those who reported their orientation as gay, lesbian, bisexual or "other" -- which I assume includes the transgender community -- 12.2 percent of prison inmates and 8.5 percent of jail inmates reported victimization by another inmate.

In prisons, that means LGBT inmates are victimized at 10 times the rate of straight inmates. In jails, that means LGBT inmates are victimized at seven times the rate of straight inmates.

With guards as the aggressors, 5.4 percent of LGBT prisoners reported victimization, compared to 2.1 percent of straight prisoners. Among jail inmates, 4.3 percent of LGBT inmates reported victimization by staff, compared to 1.7 percent of straight inmates.

Non-heterosexual inmates reported higher levels of victimization than heterosexual inmates in every demographic subgroup, according to the study.

Now, back to the BGF.

In Baltimore, we've been reporting heavily on the Baltimore City Detention Center and the alleged sexual activity between corrections officers and gang members there. Reported members of the Black Guerrilla Family gang were recently indicted by federal investigators for allegedly conspiring with 13 corrections officers to smuggle drugs and other contraband into the jail. The FBI says the scheme allowed them to gain widespread control of the facility.

According to a law-enforcement handbook on the BGF that I obtained through a records request in a separate case, the gang's "constitution" is clear on what its rules are on homosexual activity: 

"Article 23: We do not associate, nor participate in homosexual activity. Discipline may be severe," the constitution reads.

Back up to "Article 5," and you'll find this: "Discipline comes in three forms: Fines -- discipline for minor offenses; Beatdown -- discipline for major offenses; Death -- discipline for extreme violations."

Last week, the Sun reported that the new Justice study found the Baltimore jail has the nation's second-highest rate of sexual contact between jail staff and inmates. Almost 7 percent of inmates at the jail reported having had sexual contact with a staff member, the study found.

(The indictment also alleges that one inmate, Tavon White, got especially close to the officers -- impregnating four, two of whom had his name tattooed on their bodies. The indictment alleges this sexual activity was consensual.)

A number of questions come to mind.

Is the BGF's intolerance for gay behavior a deterrent to the same type of sexual targeting of gay inmates that's apparently going on in facilities across the country? Or are gay inmates victimized in Maryland facilities at risk of being targeted a second time by the gang for "activity" in which they were an unwilling participant in the first place? Is there a double standard when the "homosexual activity" occurs during a show of power against a victim?

I don't have the answers. But as the corrections department looks for ways to stop sexual activity in the jail and undo a legacy of power established by BGF inside its walls, it may want to consider the LGBT inmates who reside there as well, and whether they are at a heightened risk.

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