Yes! New York City Will House Inmates Based on Gender Identity

In a critical step toward protecting trans inmates, New York City has announced  that within the next six months it will begin housing inmates based on their consistent gender identity.

“It’s the city’s responsibility to protect the rights and safety of all New Yorkers, and that means protecting transgender individuals in city jails as well,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement released April 16. “New York City is one of the first major cities to commit to taking this step, and it’s crucial to ensuring all our facilities are welcoming and safe for all New Yorkers, no matter their gender identity.”

New York City already has broad protections for trans people, but as is common throughout the US, when it comes to prisoner rights things are different. This move brings the Department of Correction into line with the city and state’s wider gender identity protections.

The move will occur alongside the NYC Commission on Human Rights initiative that has created special safe housing for transgender inmates. This is also a good practice because trans inmates may not always feel safe in the general population’s housing units.

To illustrate why this move is necessary, it’s worth looking at the data on sexual and violent assaults in prisons. A 2009 study of California prisons — so not directly comparable for other states but still instructive — found that trans inmates were 15 times more likely to suffer sexual assaults while in prison, a staggering figure.

Staff-on-inmate sexual assaults are also higher among the trans population. Trans women who are housed in male facilities have a high level of suicide risk, and a number do succeed in taking their own lives. This change can go some way to remedying that by making sure trans inmates are housed correctly and sensitively.

The policy does carry some nuances, so it is not a blanket change but instead acknowledges how individual experiences of gender identity can inform how safe a prisoner might feel. For example, prisoners will also be assessed on factors like their experience of sexual assault, how vulnerable they may feel, and more.

“No one should feel unsafe for being who they are,” NYC Commission on Human Rights Chair Carmelyn P. Malalis said in a press release. ”Housing incarcerated individuals consistent with their gender identity is not only about dignity and respect but an important recognition of the unique challenges and vulnerabilities transgender and gender non-conforming individuals face in corrections facilities nationwide.”

It might seem odd to praise the city for something that sounds like it should have been policy all along, but New York City is now among only a handful of cities to enact a gender identity-affirming policy for prisoner housing.

To give an idea of trans representation in prisons, a 2017 study calculated that for every 100,000 people in a prison, around 390 adults would be trans. That’s about one million adults nationally.

A big caveat on that is that the majority of those identifying as trans in this study tended to be younger. This suggests (though does not prove) that older trans people may make up a significant but silent population within US prisons too.

In many prisons trans inmates are routinely segregated from the rest of the population. This forced isolation or solitary confinement has added to the severe stress that many inmates already feel.

In fact, bodies like the United Nations  have even called this forced and extended isolation a form of torture, yet it continues to be a practice in many US prisons, and many prisons globally.

New York City’s prisons have come under serious criticism in the past few years regarding its prison housing management and wider affairs, but with this move it takes the lead alongside other cities, like San Francisco, to respect trans inmates and ensure their safety. Other cities should follow this example because it really could save lives.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

37 comments

Marie W
Marie W8 days ago

Thanks for sharing

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DAVID fleming
Dave fleming5 months ago

tfs

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DAVID fleming
Dave fleming5 months ago

TFS

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Carol C
Carol C5 months ago

Glad to hear of this step forward. Now we need to work on reducing prison populations.

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Christina S
Past Member 5 months ago

I am amused. Thank you Chrissie. Yup, it's the conservatives who are the bigots & the haters! And gender is fluid... Ha! Just too bad this lunacy is even acknowledged. Thanks for the laughs diane & pam. Enjoy your evening.

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DAVID f
Dave fleming5 months ago

Tfs

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Winn A
Winn A5 months ago

Thanks

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Megan S
Megan S5 months ago

Putting a biological woman in a prison with a bunch of male criminals is a recipe for disaster. Convicted abusers and rapists likely don't give a damn how you identify. The fact that the pronouns of inmates are treated as more important than their personal safety is absolutely appalling and I think that supporting it is insanity.

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Megan S
Megan S5 months ago

ok this is just ridiculous and naive

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Janis K
Janis K5 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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