There is growing awareness that incarcerated people who are LGBT—and, in particular, transgender or gender-nonconforming individuals—face serious risks of discrimination, harassment, and abuse when in prison.Dylan Cowart, “Transgender Prisoners Face Sexual Assault and Discrimination at Pittsburgh Jail,” ACLU, November 13, 2017; Huber, Rope, and Sheahan, Global Prison Trends 2017 (2017); and BJS, Sexual Victimization in Prisons and Jails Reported by Inmates (2013).
The Department of Justice found that transgender women are nine times more likely to be victims of sexual harassment or assault than other incarcerated people.Cowart, “Transgender Prisoners Face Sexual Assault” (2017).
Incarcerated transgender people and their advocates have struggled to secure access to hormone therapy, gender confirmation surgery, and other medical care.Esinam Agbemenu, “Medical Transgressions in America’s Prisons: Defending Transgender Prisoners’ Access to Transition-Related Care,” Columbia Journal of Gender & Law 30, no. 1 (2015), 1-48.
They have also opposed placements in solitary confinement due to one’s transgender status, or housing in a male or female prison that does not align with one’s gender identity, all of which they claim increase the risk of victimization.Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), “Settlement Reached in SPLC Case that Highlighted Plight of Transgender Prisoners,” press release (Montgomery, AL: SPLC, February 12, 2016); and Sunnivie Brydum, “A Grim Reminder: Solitary Confinement Is Deadly for Trans Folks,” The Advocate, August 19, 2016.
In December 2016, Shiloh Quine, a transgender woman in California, became the first incarcerated person to receive government-funded gender confirmation surgery, as part of the settlement of a lengthy legal battle.Kristine Phillips, “A Convicted Killer Became the First U.S. Inmate to Get State-Funded Gender-Reassignment Surgery,” Washington Post, January 10, 2017.
Throughout 2017, efforts to address this population’s needs continued through lawsuits and advocacy, and state legislatures and corrections agencies continued discussions about access to medical treatment and appropriate housing of transgender people in prison.Kristine Phillips, “A Convicted Killer Became the First U.S. Inmate to Get State-Funded Gender-Reassignment Surgery,” Washington Post, January 10, 2017; and Massachusetts SB 2200 (2017) (providing that “[a] prisoner of a correctional institution, jail or house of correction that has a gender identity . . . that differs from the prisoner’s sex assigned at birth, with or without a diagnosis of gender dysphoria or any other physical or mental health diagnosis, shall be … (iv) housed in a correctional facility with inmates with the same gender identity, provided that the placement is consistent with the prisoner’s request”).
For example, in 2017, Nevada adopted a new policy that ensures that transgender individuals are placed in single cells until a review by the Non-Conforming Gender Review Committee can determine appropriate housing and provided with hormone therapy if they had a valid prescription when they entered the system.Michelle Rindels, “Nevada Prisons Adopt Policy on Transgender Inmates; ACLU Not Satisfied With Outcome,” Nevada Independent, August 31, 2017.
Michigan also adopted new policies in 2017 ensuring that incarcerated people who are transgender can receive medically necessary care, including hormone therapy, and requiring a review of their housing and privacy needs.Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), “Michigan Department of Corrections Revises Policy, Allows Transition-Related Care for Transgender Inmates,” press release (Montgomery, AL: SPLC, June 26, 2017).