The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) this week reported national statistics for the first time on sexual abuse of transgender people in US prisons and jails. BJS estimates there were over 3,200 transgender people in US prisons nationwide in 2011-12, of whom 39.9% reported sexual assault or abuse in the last year by either another prisoner or staff. BJS also estimated there were over 1,700 transgender people in US jails in 2011-12, of whom 26.8% reported sexual assault or abuse in the last year. Transgender prisoners were victimized at rates nearly ten times those for prisoners in general (4% in prisons and 3.2% in jails).
The findings are similar to previously released research, including a California study finding that of transgender women held in men’s prisons, 59% had ever been sexually assaulted by another prisoner. While BJS did not break down transgender statistics by gender or type of facility, most prisons and jails continue to house essentially all transgender women with men despite 2012 federal rules calling for individualized placements. Previously released statistics from the same surveys found that gay, lesbian, and bisexual prisoners also face very higher rates of sexual assault behind bars—though the transgender rates are the highest by far.
These stark federal findings come as NCTE joined over 100 organizations this week in a letter urging the President to stop the practice of routinely holding LGBT immigrants in detention centers pending deportation hearings. As recently as last month, Department of Homeland Security policy has recognized that certain groups generally should not be held in detention centers—which often include county jails and private corporate prisons—due to their vulnerability. This latest data on abuse rates for transgender prisoners underscores that LGBT immigrants should be considered one of these groups.
Earlier in 2014, NCTE published an advocacy guide for reforming state and local prison policies toward LGBT people and reducing LGBT incarceration.