Out of Sight: LGBTQ Youth and Adults in Texas' Justice Systems

RECOMMENDATIONS TO SUPPORT LGBTQ YOUTH

Expand services and support for unsheltered and homeless youth

Roughly 110,000 youth in Texas are unsheltered or homeless, including over 17,000 LGBTQ youth. The Legislature should grant additional funding for and programs that serve homeless and unsheltered youth to break the cycle of housing instability.
 
Divert unsheltered and homeless youth from the justice system for survival crimes
 
Research shows that community-based services better address the needs of vulnerable youth than the court system.40 Texas should provide incentive funding to counties to promote arrest diversion into community-based services for homeless youth who commit nonviolent survival crimes.
 
Simplify the process for youth to obtain new government-issued identification documents
 
The Legislature should order the Texas Department of Public Safety to implement a simplified process for homeless youth and youth who have changed their gender to apply for identification documents.
 

Collect and publish aggregate data on LGBTQ youth in the Texas foster care and juvenile justice systems

To provide the most effective, data-informed services and support to the LGBTQ youth population, Texas should begin collecting aggregate data on LGBTQ youth in the foster care system and, separately, the juvenile justice system, and take all steps to keep the data as current as possible and make it publicly available.

Promote acceptance and inclusion of LGBTQ youth in Texas’ foster care system

Many of the obstacles LGBTQ youth encounter in the foster care system can be attributed to rejection from foster parents whose religious convictions are at odds with providing accepting and affirming care to the youth. Stakeholders should intentionally recruit foster families who are willing to provide LGBTQ youth with the care they need and provide training to help ensure foster families are culturally competent in trauma-informed and inclusive care.

Fund wraparound mental health care and substance use services for youth

Seventy-five percent of mental health conditions develop and appear before the age of 24, which often includes co-occurring substance use; however, less than $1 out of every $1,000 of general revenue goes agencies to address substance use disorders. Legislators should allocate additional funding to school-based and community-based mental health and substance use programs for youth.

Divert youth with mental health conditions and/or substance use disorders from the justice system

Texas must stop using the justice system as a one-size-fits-all response to public health issues. Legislators should instruct law enforcement officers to divert youth with mental health conditions or substance use disorders into community-based diversion services.

Train law enforcement officers how to handle youth experiencing a mental health crisis

The Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) for Youth program trains law enforcement officers in best practices for handling youth with mental health conditions. Texas should require all law enforcement agencies coming in contact with youth to receive CIT program training and to divert youth with mental health needs intomore appropriate community-based services.

End overreliance on referrals to law to manage student behavior

Legislators should limit the function of school police officers to school security, rather than student behavior management, and all school police officers should be required to undergo youth-specific training, regardless of the size of the school.
 

RECOMMENDATIONS TO SUPPORT LGBTQ ADULTS

Develop wraparound mental health care and substance use disorder services for adults
 
Texas ranks near the bottom in per capita spending on mental health services in the country. With substantial planned reductions in spending on health and human services at the federal level, Texas agencies could lose billions of dollars in the upcoming years. Legislators should continue to expand funding of mental health and substance use services and programs and identify ways to fill funding gaps.
 
Train law enforcement officers how to handle someone experiencing a mental health crisis
 
Legislators should require all law enforcement agencies to participate in the Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) program. It is critical for officers to be trained in best practices for handling an individual with mental health conditions and substance use issues, building connections between law enforcement and community-based services, and diverting individuals to appropriate mental health services and support.
 
Divert individuals with mental health conditions and/or substance use disorders from the justice system
 
Legislators should provide funding mechanisms and instructions to allow law enforcement to divert LGBTQ adults with mental health conditions or substance use disorders into community-based services that will support treatment needs.
 
Pass legislation prohibiting discrimination in employment and housing
 
Legislators should explicitly prohibit employment and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.
 
Simplify the process for changing and obtaining government-issued identification documents
 
The Legislature should order the Texas Department of Public Safety to implement a simplified process for homeless adults and people who have changed their gender to easily apply for identification documents.
 
Divert individuals who are experiencing homelessness from the justice system
 
As long as Texas responds to homelessness with incarceration, the state will continue to waste millions of taxpayer dollars on institutionalizing people. Legislators should instruct law enforcement officers to divert homeless or unsheltered adults who commit nonviolent survival crimes into community-based diversion services.
 
Create an independent oversight entity over state and county correctional institutions
 
The Legislature should create an independent oversight entity over the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and county jails to monitor conditions, allegations of abuse, and deprivation of rights, as well as identify opportunities for improvement. An independent monitor should have unrestricted access to incarcerated individuals, records, and correctional staff. Independent oversight will improve conditions for all incarcerated individuals, particularly vulnerable populations such as LGBTQ persons in the justice system.