San Francisco – Transgender Law Center applauds the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) today for releasing long-awaited new standards mandated by the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) of 2003. Today’s federal regulations, which include important guidelines about the housing and treatment of transgender inmates, mark the first time the U.S. Government has created national standards to address the prevalence of sexual assault in prisons, jails, juvenile detention facilities, and community corrections facilities throughout the country. President Obama also released a concurrent memorandum directing “all agencies with Federal confinement facilities that are not already subject to the Department of Justice’s final rule to work with the Attorney General to propose any rules or procedures necessary to satisfy the requirements of PREA.” This will apply to immigration detention facilities run by the Department of Homeland Security, among other agencies.

The Department of Justice estimates that at least 216,600 inmates are sexually abused every year in U.S. prisons, jails, and youth detention facilities. Transgender people, particularly transgender women of color, face unacceptably high rates of incarceration, and, while incarcerated, face extraordinarily high rates of violence and sexual assault. A 2007 report funded by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), High Rates of Sexual Assault Among Transgender Inmates (Jenness, Maxson, Matsuda and Sumner, 2007) found that transgender inmates are 13 times more likely to be victims of sexual assault than non-transgender inmates.

“It is deeply gratifying to know that transgender people in prisons will now have additional protections and safeguards to protect them from the tragedy of sexual assault. No person anywhere deserves to be the victim of such dehumanizing treatment,” said Masen Davis, Transgender Law Center’s Executive Director. “These new standards will make tremendous strides to prevent sexual abuse of transgender and other vulnerable inmates everywhere in the United States.”

The new standards include several provisions specifically to protect transgender and gender non-conforming people, including:

  • Banning segregated units and facilities that are based solely on LGBTI status, unless created in coordination with a court order or consent decree. The prohibition will therefore not apply to the gay and transgender unit at the Los Angeles County Jail. This prohibition also will not bar LGBTI-specific units in short-term “lockup” facilities.
  • Mandating that decisions about whether inmates will be housed in male or female facilities be made on an individual basis, with the aim of maximizing the safety of the inmate. This will make it easier for trans women to be housed with other women.
  • Requiring staff training about how to communicate with and treat LGBTI inmates.
  • Banning searches of transgender inmates just to determine their anatomy.
  • Transgender Law Center participated in a broad coalition of activists and organizations who submitted comments that helped shape today’s regulations, including National Center for Transgender Equality, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, Just Detention International, and National Center for Lesbian Rights.

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