Could separate facilities for transgender prisoners save lives?


The California Department of Rehabilitation and Correction is currently in the process of implementing SB 132, the law that requires the Department of Correction and Rehabilitation (CDRC) to house transgender inmates based on their sex and not their genitals.

In November, several incarcerated women filed a complaint alleging that accommodating transgender women in women’s facilities exposes them to “”dramatically increased risk of sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape and physical violence… “

The case by Chandler v. California Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections remains on hold. Applicants can prevail by Chandler v. CDRC, ping ponging transgender women in men’s prisons.

Transgender advocates say framing any objections to SB 132 in terms of risk to cisgender women is transphobic. It’s more than that: it moved the discussion away from meaningful alternatives – ones that all states and the federal government can use – to place native men in a female prison.

Women’s advocates believe the prospect of having sex with women prompts incarcerated men who are not transgender to identify as such, as SB 132 does not require a diagnosis or medical history to qualify a person as transgender. transgender.

The National Center for Transgender Equality says it is “extremely unlikelyThat someone would falsely identify as transgender. But, in California, one inmate identified at least five male inmates seeking to be transferred under false pretenses.

When inmates expressed concern about transgender women moving in, they were told to transphobia. A good lesson, but not a balm for incarcerated cisgender women who are concerned about whether transgender women are a risk or not.

To be clear, transgender people are not dangerous.

But the perception of danger that does not exist has the same effect as the danger that does; it still stops growth. Women who have suffered significant trauma – sexual, emotional and physical – fill correctional spaces and may not feel protected, regardless of the makeup of the prison population.

It’s not like they’re making it up. In the most recent data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, reports of sexual violence in prisons have tripled although it has not been broken down by gender.

The introduction of transgender prisoners is problematic if there is no specter of violence. The CDRC anticipated sexual relations between prisoners. That’s why they made condoms available in women’s prisons earlier this year.. They have since stopped the distribution, so the risk of pregnancy remains.

Unconfirmed rumors of pregnant inmates aired earlier this year.

Administrators have developed policies to deal with reports of sexual activity (anyone caught in the act is subject to disciplinary action, but anyone reported after the act is not), but it is difficult to determine what counts as consensual in a coercive environment such as a prison.

In Illinois, a cisgender prisoner accused transgender prisoner of sexual assault. The Corrections Department dismissed the complainant’s report saying the sexual contact was consensual; she is now suing the state for disbelief.

It’s not just about what’s going on between inmates. From the minutes of a Meeting of the Inmate Advisory Council this summer, the introduction of transgender women prompted the CDRC to implement a policy of videotaping strip searches. This would represent a possible violation of federal law, depending on who is using the camera.

Administrators say the rule says no one watches the videos unless someone reports an issue. But california prison guards are not known for their obedience to the restrictions imposed on them.

Of course, leaving transgender women in men’s facilities is not an option either. Transgender inmates face rates of sexual violence and harassment 10 times higher than cisgender inmates when prisons house them based on their natal genitalia.

These realities end in an impasse. The choice is either to leave transgender inmates in clear danger or to introduce chaos – and unthinkable policies like forcing people to strip in front of the camera – into women’s institutions.

An alternative

There is a way out of this dilemma: housing transgender inmates together, away from others.

The CDRC does not do so now because the Elimination of Rape in Prison Act (PREA) prohibits the establishment of separate living quarters for any of the 3,200 transgender prisoners; they live in a facility for women or for men.

The PREA, however, has an exception to this provision. Under a settlement agreement or consent decree, the law allows institutions to house transgender inmates together, separated from the general population.

This is exactly why the K6G unit at the Los Angeles County Central Men’s Prison can exist.

In 1985, a judge ordered a separate unit for gay and transgender prisoners as part of a settlement in another ACLU lawsuit against the prison. When PREA was adopted in 2003, K6G requested an exception and has been operating continuously for 36 years.

K6G is essentially free from gangs and sexual violence. Guards accompany inmates while they attend school or with their homework. Professor Sharon Dolovich, who heads the UCLA Prison Law and Policy Program at UCLA Law School, called K6G “affirmatively humanize», A rare rave for everything correctional.

K6G is no secret; it was the subject of the 2013 film “K-11”.

Of course, the unit is not without criticism, but their objections are rather that K6G doesn’t protect as many people as it can, not that it doesn’t seem to be protecting people and working on themselves.

Of course, the solution is not as simple as lumping all transgender people together in one wing. On the one hand, transgender people must accept it, conclude a consent decree or an agreement with the CDRC.

Second, there are ways to separate vulnerable inmates who violate the spirit of PREA. The initial reason PREA banned housing people based on their gender identity is that isolating people based on their sexuality or gender can be ostracizing and damaging.

If there are not enough transgender inmates in an institution, then accommodating people may amount to placing them in segregation similar to solitary confinement. It happened at the West Valley Detention Center in San Bernardino.

Installed in what administrators called a “alternative lifestyle tankPrisoners could not access educational programs (especially to earn GEDs), outdoor exercises and group meals. This is the modern correctional method of protection: placing vulnerable people in more punitive conditions.

Such denial of rehabilitation services is unacceptable. But if principals correct these problems – as the K6G unit did – this type of housing can not only work, but it can also benefit transgender inmates so that their experiences are more rehabilitative because they feel safe. of harassment and violence, sure that security is not subject to legislative and judicial vagaries.

Why such segregation works is a question of importance, of understanding that one is “security is an institutional concernn ”according to Professor Dolovich. Very often, especially in matters of sexual violence, this is not the case with imprisoned people.

Even beyond security issues, transgender housing can be a boon for transgender inmates. When they come together in a trans-exclusive weekly training club At the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, not only do transgender inmates enjoy time spent with like-minded people, the facility has assigned a training coach and special staff to monitor it.

This is a benefit that the general population does not get.

Chandra Bozelko

Yet even transgender advocates resist explicitly separate housing for transgender inmates. It is as if identity trumps safety and rehabilitation, as if the three should not guide the management of these establishments.

There doesn’t have to be a divide between identity and security. Prisons can honor both – for all incarcerated people.

Chandra Bozelko, John Jay / Langeloth Justice Reporting Fellow, spent more than six years at York Correctional Facility in Connecticut. Bozelko is a columnist for several publications and author of Prison journals, an award-winning blog.


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