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  • Writer's picture(not yet a) Lawyer Kyle

Have Some 'Respect Trans People' Juice, There's Plenty to Go Around.

In recent years, I’ve been hearing conversations about the treatment of transgender people in prison more than ever before. Most likely, I can thank Laverne Cox's groundbreaking portrayal of trans life in prison in Orange is the New Black for bringing attention to the topic.

Cox’s character undoubtedly raised awareness about a number of issues that transgender individuals face while in prison. What is most intriguing about Cox’s character, however, is the fact that she was housed in a female facility as a transgender woman, an occurrence that is rarely the norm.

The Reality: Facts and Figures

According to recent estimates, there are approximately 4,980 transgender individuals incarcerated in state prisons. Of those, only 15 transgender prisoners have been confirmed to be placed within a facility that matches their gender identity, and seven states refused to share where their transgender prisoners were being housed.

Under the Prison Rape Elimination Act, also known as PREA, prisons are required to take measures to protect against sexual abuse of inmates. While the federal law applies to transgender inmates and requires looking at housing assignments on a case-by-case basis, a majority of states go through the motions to demonstrate compliance but still rely primarily on biological sex.

Why is this an issue? The decision to place a transgender prisoner in a facility based on their biological sex can have serious consequences. For instance, the Department of Justice found that 35% of transgender prisoners were sexually assaulted by prison staff or fellow inmates. In response to these concerns, transgender prisoners are placed in solitary confinement for their “protection.” Solitary confinement is a harsh punishment for the regular prisoner, so how is it an adequate solution for the protection of transgender inmates from assault and harassment?

Addressing the Issue

In recent years, some states have made the effort to properly account for transgender inmates, and require they be housed in facilities that correspond with their gender identity: including California, New York, and New Jersey. Personally, I find New York’s approach to be the best template for future legislation across other states. Their policy allows for transgender inmates to be placed in a facility that matches their gender identity on a voluntary basis. The voluntariness component respects the individual preference of each inmate. While some transgender inmates may feel safer in a facility that corresponds with their gender identity, others may not.

At the end of the day, transgender people deserve respect. This is especially true when it comes to the vulnerable position that transgender inmates are in. The increased risk of abuse and assault that transgender inmates face demands increased attention and support. This means that advocates, lobbyists, and legislators need to work to strengthen existing policies surrounding transgender inmates. No one, not even those convicted of a crime, deserve to live in fear for their safety.

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