Today, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) released National Standards to Prevent, Detect, and Respond to Prison Rape. The Standards include specific provisions that will work to protect transgender and gender nonconforming inmates in the fight end sexual abuse in prisons. These standards were built on recommendations provided by NCTE and several allied advocates.
Specific provisions to address abuse towards transgender people and those with intersex conditions include:
- Requiring a case-by-case consideration for housing in a male or female facility that is not based on genital status, meaning more trans women will be housed with other women.
- Limiting the use of isolating “protective custody” that can amount to torture.
- Limiting the use of segregated LGBTI units that are often treated as a quick fix and can stigmatize individuals.
- Requiring staff training for professional communication with and treatment of transgender and gender nonconforming inmates and those with intersex conditions to aid in assessing inmate vulnerabilities to sexual abuse.
- Banning the search or physical examination of transgender inmates and those with intersex conditions solely for determining their genital status.
- Minimizing stigma and the threat of abuse from staff by disallowing dedicated LGBTQI units and facilities.
- Requiring facilities to have multiple channels for reporting abuse without placing a time limit on when inmates can file grievances.
A study released by the DOJ this morning details the severity of the sexual victimization in prisons, jails, and community corrections facilities. Although the report found that 9.6% of state prisoners are sexually abused, a disproportionate 39% of gay male prisoners report being sexually abused by other prisoners. Overall findings point to disproportionate abuse in the LGBT community which is consistent with our analysis that more than one in three transgender former inmates were sexually abused. Studies have shown that trans women are thirteen times more likely than others to be sexually assaulted while incarcerated.
These findings are especially prevalent given the high rate of transgender individuals who are incarcerated. Seven percent of respondents in the National Transgender Discrimination Survey reported being locked up at some point in their lives due to their gender identity. These rates skyrocketed for Black (41%) and Latino/a (21%) people.
In addition, the DOJ highlights the widespread backlash of correctional officers against inmates who report abuse. Their study found that 28.5% of inmates who reported being sexually abused by other inmates were punished while 37% received no response from staff at all. A substantial increase can be seen when looking at reports of staff abuse as 46.3% of the prisoners who reported to a corrections official that they had been sexually abused by a staff member were punished.
“These statistics point to a grave failure to protect individuals from abuse,” said NCTE Policy Counsel Harper Jean Tobin. “If the DOJ statistics are true, the problem can only be more pervasive for transgender inmates. And combining the trauma of sexual abuse with inadequate medical and health care may lead to other poor health outcomes like depression, substance abuse, and increased HIV infections that all take a heavy toll on survivors and their families”
NCTE Executive Director Mara Keisling added, “The safety of trans people behind bars is of particular concern because too often trans people are incarcerated only because they are transgender or because of how they’ve been forced to live because of being trans.”
In the midst of these unfortunate realities, the Standards released by DOJ work towards reform and provide a solid step towards eliminating sexual abuse in prisons. However, there is still room for more progress to be made. Particularly, the failure of these Standards to fully and immediately cover facilities dedicated to housing individuals detained for immigration purposes. Without these standards, transgender and other immigrant detainees remain at risk for abuse. However, this is a solid start to a widespread and serious issue.