California transgender prisoners seek transfer to women's facilities due to sexual advances by male inmates

One of the inmates said she 'struggles every day to avoid being seen in her bra and panties'


                            California transgender prisoners seek transfer to women's facilities due to sexual advances by male inmates
A change in California state law has seen several transgender, intersex and non-binary inmates seeking transfer to prisons matching their gender preference (Getty Images)

Prison authorities in California have received as many as 261 applications since the first day of 2021 from transgender, intersex or non-binary inmates for transferring them to facilities that match the gender identity of their preference. The requests were made after a law came into effect in the state that allows transgender inmates to transfer to different prisons. 

The Los Angeles Times, which reported about the requests that the transgender inmates have been making, spoke about the harrowing experience they are facing in a men’s prison in the Golden State where. It even said that the inmates were desperate to leave the prison because of the sexual advances they face from the male counterparts. According to the report, one of those inmates “struggles every day to avoid being seen in her bra and panties and says she once faced discipline after fighting back when an inmate in her cell asked for oral sex”.

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Last September, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a new law (Senate Bill 132) seeking the state to keep transgender inmates in prisons of their choice, but only if the state does not have “management or security concerns”. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation accommodates men and women in separate facilities. While the transgender inmates are often kept in facilities based on their sex assigned at birth, advocates feel this is dangerous, particularly for transgender women kept in men’s facilities. 

California Governor Gavin Newsom (Getty Images)

The demand for the shift has gone up since the law came into effect on January 1, according to the corrections and rehabilitation department.  “It’s the start of a hugely sensitive operation playing out in one of the largest prison systems in the country,” the Times report added.

California is home to just over one percent of prison population that is identified as non-binary, intersex and transgender, the department added but it already faces excessive violence. In 2007, a US Irvine study found that the rate of sexual assault for transgender inmates is 13 times more with nearly 60 percent witnessing such encounters.

The shifting of transgender inmates has already started with the prison system having transferred four inmates to the Chowchilla women’s prison while approving 21 gender-based housing requests. Except six, all have asked for accommodation at a women’s facility. However, inmates at Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla told the Times that the staff members have warned them of potential sexual offenses from men who may try to exploit the inmates while they are being transferred. 

Covid-19 pandemic precautions slowed transfer

Prisons spokesperson Terry Thornton said in a statement that the ongoing Covid-19 has already made the situation challenging. According to the Times report, Thornton said precautions for the pandemic have slowed the inmates’ transfer and the officials could not estimate the time a transfer might take under normal circumstances, citing factors like availability of beds.

How the inmates are being received at their new places? The LA Times spoke to over a dozen inmates in women’s and men’s prisons to have an understanding of how the new law is playing out. It cited advocates and inmates saying they have been received well, there are also others who claim that prison staff members have spread misinformation to stir up transphobia and more awareness needed to be created.

Some prisoners have also shown concerns that the transferred inmates are making false claims about their gender identity in order to get transferred to women’s prisons and alleged that the staff members told him about this slowing down the process. 
 
In recent times, states like Connecticut and Massachusetts have also passed similar laws like that of California, giving inmates the right to be searched and addressed on the basis of their gender identity. The law helps putting the states in line with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act which is against decisions to house inmates only on the basis of their genitalia and asks the agencies to consider on a case-by-case basis whether a placement would ensure the inmate’s health and safety.

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