Research shows LGBTQ+ people are detained at disproportionate rates, but the collection of official or conclusive data remains piecemeal.
It remains extremely difficult to obtain data and information on the number of LGBTQ+ people in prison, mainly due to their invisibility both inside and outside prison settings. Very few prison authorities actively gather data, and where it is available, it is underestimated due to people fearing further discrimination and violence if they identify as such and the limited modes of data collection used. The UN Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity reported in 2019 on the ‘incomplete and fragmented’ or non-existent information about LGBTQ+ people noting that this means ‘in most contexts policymakers are taking decisions in the dark, left only with personal preconceptions and prejudices or the prejudices of the people around them’.
Where data exists, it shows that LGBTQ+ people are overrepresented in prison populations. For example, new research specifically on trans women in Latin America published in 2020 concluded from all the available data that trans women represent a significant proportion of the LGBTQ+ population in prison, exceeding 30 per cent in Mexico City and in Bolivia. The study found that high proportions of trans women detained are charged or convicted of drug-related offences. In Thailand, recent estimates suggest that transgender persons make up 2.6 per cent of the prison population.In Brazil, the penitentiary administration reported that more than 10,000 people in prison (representing just over 1 per cent of the prison population) identified as part of the LGBTQ+ community after a wide-scale effort to collect data, though the actual number is probably much higher given fears of self-identifying as such.
As of the end of 2020, 69 of 194 UN member states continue to criminalise consensual same-sex relationships, with life imprisonment or the death penalty possible in some countries.
Despite some positive developments, such as in Gabon, where the parliament reversed its 2019 criminalisation of LGBTQ+ people, members of the LGBTQ+ community continue to face discrimination, in many cases resulting in imprisonment for offences linked to their gender or sexual identity. There have been cases of COVID-19 response measures being used to target LGBTQ+ people. In April 2020 in Uganda, 23 persons living at a homeless shelter for LGBTQ+ people were arrested on charges of violating public health measures. Twenty were held in pre-trial detention, reportedly without access to legal counsel because of the lockdown in place at the time.
LGBTQ+ people continue to be subjected to discriminatory practices and physical, sexual and psychological violence within prison settings, emanating from prison authorities, staff or other people in prison. In Colombia, 285 cases of discrimination were reported in 2019, including insults, sexual harassment and visitation restrictions. A 2020 report detailed how trans women in prison in Honduras tend to be more severely punished, including through long periods of solitary confinement.
See a complete list of references in the full report, Global Prison Trends 2021.