Treating LGBT Clients in the Criminal Justice System

Treating LGBT clients in the criminal justice system presents special challenges for the counselor who has to balance security protocols with maintaining his or her professional and ethical responsibilities. It is especially important that counselors present themselves in a manner that gains clients’ trust so that the clients can process issues that may involve their sexuality or gender identity.

In the correctional institution setting homophobia, transphobia, and heterosexism are even more prevalent than in society in general. Stigmatization is more intense, resulting in extreme “closeting” on the part of many incarcerated LGBT offenders. The LGBT offender’s sexuality, if known, may be considered an attribute of his or her criminality. This is an issue that should be processed appropriately in treatment.

Some incarcerated LGBT offenders express themselves by clear and flagrant presentation while others choose to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity to avoid punitive consequences from other prisoners. LGBT couples may state to their fellow inmates that they are strongly committed to each other and are monogamous.

Treatment documentation and security of records are important. Counselors may find it helpful to inform their immediate clinical supervisor about LGBT cases and provide progress reports and assistance in managing issues such as clients who are used to being out and open but are forced while incarcerated to hide their identities.

A history of rape, family-of-origin issues, and unresolved grief are prevalent in incarcerated LGBT clients. Due to the homophobia/ transphobia/heterosexism of institutional staff and the other offenders, incarcerated LGBT clients may have trouble bonding with other LGBT offenders. These clients usually present with profound feelings of isolation, fear, depression, and anxiety and have difficulty trusting others.

Most correctional facilities endorse the traditional 12-step model of treatment in conjunction with “therapeutic community” treatment. In most of the settings, an LGBTspecific 12-step support group will not be available for the LGBT client. Rational-emotive therapy is also utilized in many correctional settings, and counselors should not give the impression that LGBT clients’ sexual orientation is a negative “behavior” that needs to be “changed.”

Before an LGBT client is released, his or her counselor may be the only professional who can adequately provide the specific referrals needed by the client for community reentry. This is a case management function, and the referrals and recommendations made by the counselor are crucial to helping the LGBT client reenter society and stay clean and sober.