Nascent research among young transgender women (YTW) ages 16-29 indicates that this group may experience high rates of criminal legal system involvement, including police contact, arrest, and incarceration. Despite the high rates of arrest reported by YTW in prior community studies, little research has explored the pathways by which YTW enter the criminal legal system. The present study seeks to address this gap by investigating risk and protective processes and arrest among a sample of N = 300 transgender women ages 16-29.
Data for this study were obtained from surveys of 300 YTW collected between 2012-2015 in Chicago and Boston as part of an NIH-funded randomized control trial of an HIV-prevention intervention. Latent class analysis (LCA) was used to identify profiles of YTW with similar response patterns to items addressing interpersonal harm, social and structural exclusion, resilience, and arrest. Multinomial logistic regression was conducted using Vermunt’s three step method to examine likelihood of class membership based on age, racial identity, and perceived gender expression. All statistical analyses were conducted using SPSS version 23 and Mplus version 8.
Participants in the sample range in age from 16-29 (M=23.3); Almost half identified as Black/African American (49.3%), 26.2% as White, 13.4% as Latina, and 11.1% as another race. Over two thirds (67.2%) of the sample reported being arrested at any point prior to or during the study period. At baseline, 32.9% of participants reported having ever spent time in jail or juvenile detention, and the majority (78.6%) were housed with men. Overall, YTW in the sample reported high levels of experiences of social and structural marginalization, including homelessness (49.3%), engagement in sex work (49.7%), and intimate partner violence (41.7%). A three-class model was selected (LL = -1996.07(41), BIC=4225.70) to best represent the data: (1) a “high risk, high arrest” class (n = 87, 30.2% of the sample), (2) a “low risk, low arrest” class (n = 93, 31.5% of the sample), and (3) a “moderate risk, high arrest” class (n = 118, 38.4% of the sample). Participants who identified as Black had over four times greater odds of being in Class 3, a high arrest class, than Class 2, a low arrest class (OR = 4.03, p = .01).
Conclusions and implications:
Utilizing secondary data from one of the largest samples of YTW ages 16-29, this study helps to fill a gap in the existing literature by exploring the risk and protective factors for criminal legal system involvement among YTW. Whereas prior work has suggested that YTW enter the criminal legal system for similar reasons, these findings suggest that YTW’s experiences of criminal legal system involvement and risk and resilience processes are heterogenous. These findings suggest that social work interventions to deter YTW from arrest might include policy-level work such as decriminalizing sex work, and program delivery, such as developing housing and employment programs specifically tailored to YTW’s needs.