More than 2,300 Arizona prisoners have been punished for queer intimacy

Infraction data from the Department of Corrections shows how people are targeted for holding hands, having consensual encounters, or "homosex."

Image treatment by LOOKOUT. Photo by Daniel Arauz

When living inside prison, every aspect of your life is determined by people who have power over you, from work to sex.

You could end up in solitary confinement for complaining about the rotted meat served to you. For pennies on the dollar, you can work full time but not make enough in wages for sanitary products. And holding hands with someone you care about will result in a punishment that can lead to your privileges taken away.

In an analysis of 40 years of infraction notices inside Arizona’s prisons, thousands of people are being punished for same-sex encounters that aren’t classified as sexual assault or violence. Instead, they appear to be sexual encounters between consenting residents.

Between 1990 and 2022, the most recent year that data was collected, more than 1,200 women and 900 men have been issued serious infractions for having a sexual encounter with someone of the same sex inside. Fifty women and 10 men have also been given tickets for holding hands inside.

In almost every instance, people of color were issued tickets inside prisons more likely than their white counterparts. Hispanic women were more commonly targeted for sexual contact inside prisons than White or Black women.

Hispanic men and women were more likely to be targeted and issued tickets for having sexual contact with each other than other groups of people. Tickets for sexual encounters often come with steep penalties, such as loss of privileges or visitation. (Data from AZDCRR)

Hispanic men were, also, issued more tickets for sexual contact than their white counterparts.

While the numbers, themselves, don’t give a full look within the Department of Corrections, it does give a small glimpse of their enforcement or treatment toward queer prisoners.

One prisoner interviewed who didn’t want to be named said that he and another cellmate who were intimate with each other were pulled out of their cell and beaten by other prisoners. He provided video of the incident, taken in 2021 from a second floor camera, showing a corrections officer opening the cell door and letting other prisoners inside. The video doesn’t have sound.

“They almost killed him,” said one prisoner who is in the same cell block. “Guard just let it happen.”

Negative treatment toward gay men, especially, in prison is not unusual. In the analysis of infractions taken from the Department of Corrections, Reentry and Rehabilitation, nearly 100 men were ticketed for the specific offense of “threaten homosex.” In those cases, Black men were punished far more likely than White or Hispanic men.

The department did not provide comment to LOOKOUT by time of publication.

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