An amended bill protecting transgender individuals, SB132 from out San Francisco Democratic Sen. Scott Wiener, was introduced Monday, March 18 and is scheduled for legislative action next month. The bill would protect transgender inmates incarcerated in California’s correctional system from the violence that frequently arises when they are housed according to their birth-assigned gender instead of their actual gender identity,
“This bill will save lives and will enable trans women serving sentences in California prisons to avoid some of the worst horrors they currently face on the inside,” said Shawn Meerkamper, Senior Staff Attorney, for the Oakland-based Transgender Law Center. “California is falling behind on this issue, and for our communities’ sake, it desperately needs to catch up.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CAL-CDCR) confirmed to the Los Angeles Blade that often the risk of violence, including sexual violence, leads to trans inmates being placed in isolation, also known as special custody units, “for their own protection.”
Removing them from the general population and placing them in limited housing access or solitary confinement curtails access to services like rehabilitative programming, educational programming, religious programming, and work opportunities, all of which has been proven to reduce recidivism and further rehabilitation efforts.
The legislation requires:
- During the initial intake process, CDCR record the individual’s self-reported gender identity, preferred first name, preferred pronouns and honorifics, and preferred gender identity of any officer who may conduct a lawful body search on the individual.
- House people according to their gender identity, unless a specifically articulated security concern counsels otherwise, or the individual believes it would be safer to be housed according to their birth gender.
- All staff and contractors of CDCR to consistently use the gender pronoun, honorific, and preferred name the individual has specified in all verbal and written communications with and regarding that individual.
“Transgender people deserve basic dignity, respect, and safety while incarcerated, and we should respect the gender identity of all individuals regardless of their current situation,” Wiener said in a press release. “To house transgender individuals in facilities that do not correspond with their gender identity puts these individuals at great risk of physical assault and sexual victimization, and reduces their access to programming that creates a successful transition from prison back to their community.”
Currently, CAL-CDCR houses incarcerated trans individuals based on their assigned sex at birth, unless they have undergone gender-affirming surgery or have received a medical evaluation and been referred to a classification committee. This leaves many trans inmates stranded and at risk in correctional facilities. The bill says trans inmates who don’t undergo gender-affirming surgery should be housed according to their gender identity – period.
“Having Trans people having the autonomy to choose where they want to be housed when they have to do time in a state prison is in a way liberating,” said Bamby Salcedo, President of the LA-based TransLatin Coalition, a co-sponsor of the bill. “It gives people the autonomy to take agency to their own identification and where they can spend their time while incarcerated.”