New Survey: Transgender People’s Experiences in Prison and Their Calls for Policy Change

Results from the Vera Institute of Justice and Black and Pink National’s survey of currently incarcerated transgender people reveal their policy recommendations around housing, health care, safety, and dignity behind bars across diverse experiences in state prisons.


Contact: Trip Eggert,

The Vera Institute of Justice and Black and Pink National are proud to announce the release of “Advancing Transgender Justice: Illuminating Trans Lives Behind and Beyond Bars,” resulting from a groundbreaking survey of 280 transgender people in state prisons across 31 states. Their responses provide critical insights into their daily experiences and policy recommendations for government leaders, prison officials, and those who work with incarcerated people.

Prison is harmful to everyone who is incarcerated, yet prejudice, violence, and a lack of necessary services mean that transgender people face acute and disproportionate harm behind bars. They are also at particular risk of contact with the criminal legal system: a 2022 national survey found roughly one in three LGBTQ+ people had been through some form of incarceration in the last five years. Yet trans people’s experience of imprisonment has long been obscured by stigma, the frequent use of solitary confinement, and the fundamentally opaque nature of prisons. This landmark report, building on Black and Pink National’s 2015 survey of LGBTQ+ people in prison, Coming Out of Concrete Closets, sheds much-needed light on transgender people’s experiences in prison.

Key findings from Vera and Black and Pink National’s new survey include:

  • Nearly 90 percent of respondents had spent time in solitary confinement—and one in five sent in a survey from solitary confinement, which many reported to be the only option for separation from people who threaten harm.

  • More than half (53 percent) of respondents reported experiencing a nonconsensual sexual encounter during their current sentence. Thirty-one percent named harassment, threats, and attacks by other incarcerated people as a top reason they felt unsafe behind bars.

  • Of respondents who sought medication to support gender transition in prison, 53 percent were unable to access it due to obstacles such as blanket bans, diagnosis requirements, or discrimination by medical or prison staff.

  • There is no single housing situation that fits all trans people. Most respondents currently in prisons designated for men said they would like to transfer to a prison designated for women—but about a third would not. Nearly four out of five respondents (78 percent) would prefer to live in a unit designated for transgender people. Trans people want clear policies on different housing options and the chance to have individual input on what housing situation would improve their safety.

  • Nearly three-fourths of respondents (72 percent) indicated prison staff did not try to help them succeed. Further, 28 percent reported verbal discrimination by staff and 3 percent reported physical harm by staff.

Survey respondents’ experiences underscore the urgent need for reforming policy and practice on housing, health care, gender-affirming practices, social support, implementation of the Prison Rape Elimination Act, and staff training and accountability. Their responses articulate clear recommendations for governments and prison officials to undertake. For further insights, please access the full report on the survey findings: “Advancing Transgender Justice: Illuminating Trans Lives Behind and Beyond Bars,” and our multimedia blog, “‘We Need To Listen.’” Report authors from Vera and experts from Black and Pink National are available for interview about the survey and transgender people’s experiences of incarceration.


About the Vera Institute of Justice: The Vera Institute of Justice is powered by hundreds of advocates, researchers, and policy experts working to transform the criminal legal and immigration systems until they’re fair for all. Founded in 1961 to advocate for alternatives to money bail in New York City, Vera is now a national organization that partners with impacted communities and government leaders for change. We develop just, antiracist solutions so that money doesn’t determine freedom; fewer people are in jails, prisons, and immigration detention; and everyone is treated with dignity. Vera’s headquarters is in Brooklyn, New York, with offices in Washington, DC, New Orleans, and Los Angeles. For more information, visit

About Black and Pink National: Black and Pink National is a prison abolitionist organization dedicated to abolishing the criminal punishment system and liberating LGBTQIA2S+ people and people living with HIV/AIDS who are affected by that system through advocacy, support, and organizing. Black and Pink National, founded in 2005, now has a strong grassroots network of 4 volunteer-led chapters and more than 20,000 current and formerly incarcerated LGBTQIAS2+ and people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) members located across the country.

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