NCTE applauds the Harris County Sheriff Department for joining other jurisdictions around the country in adopting significant new policies that will help to protect the safety and dignity of LGBT people in custody. Like several other jurisdictions, the Harris County, TX policy incorporates national Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) standards which call for housing transgender inmates based on their gender identity rather than their birth sex or anatomy on a case-by-case basis. This is perhaps the most important step facilities can take to prevent abuse of these inmates, because transgender women housed with men are 13 times more likely to be sexually assaulted.
NCTE Director of Policy Harper Jean Tobin, who worked with partners Lou Weaver and the Harris County Sheriff’s Department on the policy, told the Associated Press:
“It represents a significant step forward,” said Harper Jean Tobin, director of policy for the Washington-based National Center for Transgender Equality, which worked closely with Garcia’s staff.
The new policy may be notable because it’s occurring in a staunchly red state proud of its conservative values, Tobin said. But she emphasized it’s not about politics.
“This is not a red or blue issue,” Tobin said. “It is an issue of preventing violence, of meeting the state’s legal and moral responsibilities to keep people safe and safeguarding public funds that when sexual abuse happens in prison need to be spent on medical care and mental health care and recovery.”
The policy expressly forbids subjecting LGBT people to derogatory language, more invasive searches, automatic solitary confinement, or other humiliating treatment. Transgender people must be addressed by their preferred name and corresponding pronouns and asked whether they would feel safer being searched by female or male officers.
NCTE calls on jurisdictions across the country to adopt these common-sense protections that will promote safety, security, and professionalism and prevent abuse, trauma, and litigation.