Transgender Youth, Challenges, Responses, and the Juvenile Justice System: A Systematic Literature Review of an Emerging Literature

Published date01 April 2024
AuthorJennifer Watson,India Bryce,Tania M. Phillips,Tait Sanders,Annette Brömdal
Date01 April 2024
Subject MatterOriginal Articles
Youth Justice
2024, Vol. 24(1) 88 –112
© The Author(s) 2023
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/14732254231167344
Transgender Youth, Challenges,
Responses, and the Juvenile Justice
System: A Systematic Literature
Review of an Emerging Literature
Jennifer Watson, India Bryce , Tania M. Phillips,
Tait Sanders and Annette Brömdal
This systematic literature review synthesizes available empirical studies exploring the challenges experienced
by transgender youth within juvenile justice contexts and systems responses to them. The review followed
PRISMA guidelines and searches were conducted in five academic databases from January 2000 to December
2020. Four qualitative articles met the inclusion criteria for review. Further research must be pursued to
elucidate the lived experiences of transgender youth in juvenile justice systems. The juvenile justice system
responses in providing for the unique health, social, and psychological needs of this vulnerable, carceral
population are necessary to influence and guide best practice policies and procedures.
challenges, juvenile justice system, responses, transgender, youth
The World Health Organization (2021) defines transgender as an umbrella term describ-
ing a unique population of individuals whose sense of gender differs from their sex
assumed at birth. Some transgender people undertake gender-affirming hormones or
surgeries to align their physical appearance with their gender identity (Jonnson et al.,
2019; Majid and Vanstone, 2018; Mallon and Perez, 2020; Swan et al., 2023).
The ‘youth justice system’ is a set of processes and procedures for managing youth who
have, or are alleged to have, committed a criminal offense (Australian Institute of Health
and Welfare (AIHW), 2020). Globally, the age the youth justice system applies to varies
Corresponding author:
Annette Brömdal, School of Education, Faculty of Business, Education, Law and Arts and Centre for Health Research,
Institute for Resilient Regions, University of Southern Queensland, West Street, Toowoomba, QLD 4350 Australia.
1167344YJJ0010.1177/14732254231167344Youth JusticeWatson et al.
Original Article
Watson et al. 89
between countries, and nationally even between states/territories. For example, great vari-
ation is evident in the age a youth is deemed criminally responsible between the states of
the United States. In the state of New York, a youth is deemed criminally responsible
between the ages of 7 and 16 years, while 32 states, including Florida and California, have
no minimum age (Juvenile Justice Geography, Policy, Practice and Statistics, 2021). In
England and Australia, a youth may be arrested and charged with a criminal offense
between the ages of 10 and 17 years inclusive (see AIHW, 2020; Gov.UK, 2021; Parliament
of Australia, 2022).
As follows, young people enter the youth justice system when they are investigated by
police for allegedly committing an offense. Within Western systems of Juvenile Justice,
this investigation can lead to the young person being cautioned, charged, and ordered to
appear before a juvenile criminal court, or diverted through non-court actions such as
infringement notices or community conferencing (AIHW, 2020). The court may detain a
young person on remand while waiting for their matter to be finalized, or in some jurisdic-
tions, the court may release the young person on bail, although not all Western and
European jurisdictions have a system of bail. Upon hearing the matter, the court may
dismiss the charge, impose similar diversionary interventions, or order a period of legal
supervision, either within the community on a community-based order (e.g. probation
order) or in a juvenile detention center (AIHW, 2020; Makker et al., 2022; Myers et al.,
2020; Taylor, 2016). In keeping with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a
Child, a key principle of the youth justice system broadly speaking is that the detention of
young people is used as a ‘last resort’ (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner
for Human Rights (OHCHR), 1985, 1989).
Determining precise numbers of transgender youth involved within juvenile justice
systems is challenging. In the United States, approximately 13%–15% of young people
incarcerated identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender (LGBT), an over-repre-
sentation of this population considering LGBT youth represents 5% to 7% of the nation’s
overall population (Feinstein et al., 2001; Hunt and Moodie-Mills, 2012; Majd et al.,
2009; Mitchum and Moodie-Mills, 2014; Movement Advancement Project et al., 2017;
Rankin, 2017; Zamantakis, 2016). However, since ‘transgender’ is measured within the
broader demographic of LGBT, it is difficult to determine an accurate picture of involve-
ment (Valentino, 2011).
While some data are available pertaining to the prevalence of adult incarcerated
transgender persons (Brömdal et al., 2019a), data on the involvement of transgender youth
are not available (Asquith et al., 2017). Within the Australian context (where the authors
are located), the AIHW report Youth justice in Australia 2018–19 (2020) summarizes
demographic details of youth involved nationally within the youth justice system, how-
ever, does not gather or report information on gender identity.
Parallel to this, LGBT youth have more adverse contact with the juvenile justice sys-
tem than cisgender and heterosexual peers in the United States (Hunt and Moodie-Mills,
2012; Kahle and Rosenbaum, 2021). The common pathways into the juvenile justice sys-
tem for LGBT youth stem often from family conflict and rejection after the youth ‘comes
out’, resulting in homelessness and committing crimes to survive (e.g. selling drugs, sex
work, theft, or rough sleeping/sleeping in public spaces) (Fedders, 2013; Hunt and
Moodie-Mills, 2012; Irvine and Canfield, 2016; Mountz, 2016, 2020). This increases their

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