Transgender people serving time in prison are placed in isolation cells at exceedingly high rates, according to The Nation.
After threats to her physical safety led Jessica Hicklin to fashion a weapon to protect herself, prison staff at a maximum-security correctional facility in Missouri placed her in solitary confinement for nine months.
“This is indicative of a prison system that is uninterested in actually protecting or caring for trans women, or trans men,” said James Lyndon, founder of Black and Pink, an organization advocating for prison abolition.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons estimated in a recent report that roughly 1,200 trans people are incarcerated in federal correctional facilities. Trans people in federal prisons are two to three times more likely to be held in “restrictive housing,” or solitary confinement. Data at the state level is more scarce, but an estimated 5,000 trans people are incarcerated in state prisons, The Nation wrote.
According to Milo Inglehart, staff attorney at the Transgender Law Center, trans people are routinely treated as the problem instead of the violence against them.
“To try and address the problem the prison will place the trans person in restrictive housing to try and single them out.…” Inglehart said. “It’s really a horrific way to treat a victim of violence.”
Tahj Graham, a trans man in Texas, spent his 18 months in prison in women’s units. Often, solitary confinement was threatened as punishment for violating the dress policy.
Graham was placed in solitary confinement at least four times for reporting he was being sexually assaulted.
“I eventually just stopped reporting it,” Graham said. “Because they would place me in solitary confinement each and every time.”
The lack of air conditioning during the hot Texas weather and the lack of contact with family only added to the “pure torture” of solitary, Graham said.
In 2003, the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act became law, intending to “maintain and enforce a zero-tolerance policy toward sexual assault for both inmate-to-inmate and staff-on-inmate misconduct,” in all federal, state, and local correctional facilities nationwide.
“During my time at Black and Pink, we saw PREA being used over and over again to criminalize queer and trans folks for consensual sexual relationships,” Lydon said. “And for simple things such as hugging each other and being in the same area.”
Jennaya Bennett-Werra, a trans woman incarcerated in a Massachusetts state prison, said she was placed in solitary for four months because of a consensual sexual relationship. She received two months for assaulting a doctor who tried to stop her from receiving her medications.
Lydon himself was in solitary confinement when he was incarcerated. As for how to solve this problem Lydon said the only solution is to “get people out of prison.”