Incarcerated trans women continue to be targeted for sexual assaults, physical abuse and gender discrimination while being forced to be housed in prisons for men, CNN reports.
Trans women are at significantly higher risk of violence and abuse than any other incarcerated group, according to academic research studies and surveys, the June 21 CNN story noted.
The report cited the case of Dee Farmer, reporting one experience. “He (a guard) just kept repeatedly punching me all over,” said Farmer, a plaintiff in a state Supreme Court case against an Indiana prison. “He started kicking me and I saw a knife in his tennis shoe, and it scared me so bad that I stopped resisting.”
With Farmer’s testimony, the court ruled in 1994 that the violent environment and history of assaults at the Federal Correctional Institute (FCI) in Terre Haute constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the 8th Amendment.
The story included the experience of a transgender woman named Jasmine Rose Jones: “(F)or much of the last 23 years, she was incarcerated in a men’s facility, and she says she was subjected to rape, sexual assault, and abuse just because she is transgender.”
“Transgender women are not safe behind bars, period,” said Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE). “Nobody should be in danger just because they are in government custody.”
Transgender abuse occurs at nine times the rate of general population prisoners — with abuse by corrections staff at five times the rate, an NCTE survey found.
In 2003, President George W. Bush signed into law the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA).
It is “still not enforced consistently enough. We need clearer and more detailed policy about exactly how to determine the housing assignment,” said Heng-Lehtinen, “and it needs to be reevaluated periodically because circumstances change.”
In 2018 the Trump administration changed the federal government’s Transgender Offender Manual to require prison officials to use an offender’s biological sex as the initial determination for housing placement.
“Activists says not much has changed,” according to CNN. They are now “working to change policies on both the federal and state level to allow trans prisoners to decide for themselves where they would feel safest being housed.”
“Under current policy, a transgender or intersex inmate’s own views with respect to his or her own safety must be given serious consideration when BOP (Bureau of Prisons) makes housing and programming assignments,” the Department of Justice told CNN.
The federal BOP “follows and enforces PREA standards and recognizes the importance of ensuring that inmates are and feel safe while in custody,” said a U.S. Department of Justice statement.
In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 132 into law. Effective Jan. 1, 2021, it requires transgender, non-binary and intersex prisoners to be housed in “a correctional facility designated for men or women based on the individual’s preference.”
SB 132 also requires prison and jail staff to address prisoners by their preferred gender pronouns.
“We want people to understand that we are under no delusion that this bill will make prisons safe for anyone, including gender variant people,” said Jennifer Orthwein, a public interest attorney. “We just hope that this bill makes it possible for transgender, non-binary and intersex people to survive prison with as much of their mental and bodily integrity intact as possible.”
Orthwein has filed a lawsuit against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) on behalf of incarcerated trans woman Syiaah Skylit and the entire class of trans prisoners.
“Defendants and the (CDCR) have repeatedly tortured, sexually assaulted, threatened and pepper-sprayed Plaintiff Syiaah Skylit, a 30-year-old Black transgender woman,” said the court filing.
Due to pending litigation, CDCR declined to comment on specific plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
“CDCR has remained committed to providing a safe, humane, rehabilitative and secure environment for all transgender, non-binary and intersex people housed in the state’s correctional facilities,” CDCR told CNN. “All housing transfer requests are being reviewed by a multidisciplinary team to include institution leadership, mental health professionals, and PREA Compliance Managers.”