Charlotte Haigh and Victoria Siano
Transgender people, women in particular, have been facing many issues lately revolving around their treatment in correctional facilities as a result of their gender identity. While some of these issues happen with people regardless of gender, it has shown to be more prevalent within the transgender community.
Transgender women are more likely to be arrested than the population at large, but not always due to fair reasons. Trans people are at high risk of police discrimination, and some have been arrested merely based upon their appearance. Others may turn to illegal activities to support themselves after employment discrimination.
These people are subjected to harassment routinely and face risks while held in custody. According to the Government Accountability Office’s analysis on sexual assault and immigration detention, between October 2009 and March 2013 three of the 15 confirmed cases involved a transgender woman. This is a disproportionate amount considering that the population of transgender people in immigrant detention is less than 1 percent.
A common solution to ensure safety involves placing them in solitary confinement. This has, however, proven to be more similar to an act of punishment than to protection.
While in solitary confinement, transgender inmates are at a higher risk of assault by guards. In addition, they are deprived of group therapy and educational programs, which can have psychological effects on the inmates, such as thoughts and attempts of suicide or self-harm.
Authorities are working to find the best solution to keep transgender inmates safe. In August, Rikers Island in New York opened a housing unit specifically for transgender women. Another plausible solution is allowing such people to be assigned to housing by gender identity, as opposed to their assumed gender.
The underlying issue of discrimination could be addressed by better staff training to prevent assault and harassment at jailing facilities, and full access to healthcare for all inmates.