According to the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), transgender people who have not undergone genital reconstruction surgery face the risk of being assigned to a prison which hosts members of the transgender person’s birth sex.
What this means is that a man who is in the process of becoming a woman—regardless of the amount of hormonal and medical procedures—is often placed in a prison full of men. The dangers that a transgender woman faces in a men’s prison are apparent: assault, discrimination, and sexual abuse are just some of the obstacles that these members are likely to face.
Although some transgender members are able to become separated from the general population, via administrative segregation, it is simply not enough to assure the well-being of transgender inmates.
In 2005, the US Federal Bureau of Prisons released a statement saying that, “Inmates who have undergone treatment for gender identity disorder will be maintained only at the level of change which existed when they were incarcerated in the Bureau.”
Despite most prisons being able to administer hormone therapy to the extent of which the patient was receiving prior to incarceration, states do have the ability to refuse abiding by the policy.
So what happens then? Are transitioning transsexuals merely dropped off at the prison gates and abandoned for the hungry lions to have their way with?
Well, in Wisconsin, that is exactly what state officials in Wisconsin attempted to do back in 2006—they wanted to abandon our transitioning transsexuals by refusing to pay for hormone therapy of three incarcerated, transgender women. Not only that, but they also refused to separate them from the general population.
New York’s Lambda Legal—a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people—presented an oral argument before the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals that suggests that it is a violation of the federal Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection, as well as the guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment to bar transgender inmates from access to individualized medical care.
In August 2011, victory is won; transgender inmates in Wisconsin were able to proceed with hormonal treatment while incarcerated. But the bigger question still stands: should our pre-sexual reconstruction inmates get to choose whether they are imprisoned with men or women? According to officials at the Los Angeles police department, the answer is YES! Well… sort of.
After making contact with the LAPD Media Relations Team, it was confirmed that back in 2012, they opened a separate detention center for transgender inmates, due to increased risk of violence, rape, and emotional abuse. This made the LAPD the first facility to provide transgender people the opportunity to choose to be held separately from members of their birth sex.
Also, officers were instructed to call inmates by their preferred names under new gender identities, rather than their birth names. And as of 2011, California prisons allowed transgender inmates to choose (per request) their clothing—bras and boxer shorts were made available—and California also continues distributing hormonal treatment to those who were receiving it prior to imprisonment.
While this does mark progress for the comfort and safety of our transgender inmates, there are more steps that need to be taken—ears need to be opened to the ideas behind why it may be best if we allowed them to choose the gender of people that they are incarcerated with. Certainly, no one deserves special treatment in prison—they have been put there for reasons that the court found deserving of incarceration—however, everyone deserves an opportunity to be safe.
How safe would you feel if you were a woman—emotionally and beyond—and thrown in a prison full of men? At the end of the day, that is the exact scenario that some transgenders have to face. And it isn’t acceptable.