On Friday, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons unveiled an updated Transgender Offender Manual. The contents have major consequences for transgender prisoners, and activists have denounced the updates, reported BuzzFeed News.
Prior to the updates, transgender prisoners could be classified according to “gender identity when appropriate.” However, the new manual says that transgender inmates will be classified initially using biological sex, and inmates would only be identified according to their gender identity “in rare cases.” The determination is also to be made on a “case-by-case” basis.
The changes were spurred by a lawsuit brought by four women inmates from a Texas prison, who alleged that transgender women in women’s prisons “creates a situation that incessantly violates the privacy of inmates; endangers the physical and mental health of the Plaintiffs and others, including prison staff; [and] increases the potential for rape.” In August, the Trump administration noted they would be reviewing the issues, and on Friday unveiled the updated manual, detailed the Huffington Post.
Ironically, the concerns that the four Texas inmates had about transgender inmates ignores the problem that the transgender community face themselves. Mara Keisling from the National Center for Transgender Equality noted that “The extreme rates of physical and sexual violence faced by transgender people in our nation’s prisons is a stain on the entire criminal justice system.” Additionally, activists point out statistics that show that transgender inmates are at a “disproportionate risk of suffering sexual violence.”
The lawsuit by the four Texan women alleged that transgender inmates “committed certain acts against them,” but the claims were never substantiated, detailed NPR.
The Bureau of Prisons, in the meantime, is defending the changes, saying it was needed in order to “balance the safety needs of transgender inmates as well as other inmates,” according to their spokesperson Nancy Ayers.
Other points of concern for transgender inmates and rights activists is that the Justice Department plans to no longer gather data on sexual orientation or gender identity from future National Crime Victimization Surveys given to teenagers.
Under the Trump administration, the transgender community has lost many rights. Previously, it was decided that transgender people can be forced to serve under their biological sex rather than gender identity. This was put into place after Trump’s attempts to ban transgender people from the military was stalled. Also, transgender students lost their rights to use school bathrooms according to their gender identity.
There are many cases of transgender inmates suffering violence at prisons. Most recently, an incident involving a transgender inmate in Colorado resulted in rape. Lindsay Saunders-Velez sued the state prison system after a federal judge sent her to a “punishment pod” for a “disciplinary infraction.” Saunders-Velez’s lawyers had asked the judge to reconsider, since she was concerned that she could end up in close proximity to her tormentors. Even so, the judge put her in the punishment pod, where she was attacked and had to spend a week in the prison infirmary. Demoya Gordon, an attorney, said that due to the classification system, if a transgender women is classified as a man and placed with other men, they can suffer harassment, abuse, or rape, reported Time Magazine.