NCTE Weighs In on First-Ever Congressional Hearing on Solitary Confinement

June 19, 2012

Last week, the National Center for Transgender Equality submitted testimony to today’s first-ever U.S. Senate hearing on solitary confinement. The hearing,  “Reassessing Solitary Confinement: The Human Rights, Fiscal, and Public Safety Consequences,” examines its ramifications for human rights.

NCTE’s testimony reflects data collected in the National Transgender Discrimination Survey and anecdotal testimony from current and former inmates about their experiences in prison and detention facilities. Transgender inmates are among the most vulnerable to violence and sexual assault, and for this reason, many prisons place trans inmates into involuntary solitary confinement. This is an unacceptable response to the problem of abuse because solitary confinement itself has devastating and often irreversible consequences for mental and physical health. The consequences of long-term isolation are so serious that it is widely recognized as a form of torture.

NCTE’s testimony says:

Restrictive, segregated, isolated custody is by its very nature punitive and damaging; placing transgender inmates in solitary protective custody amounts to punishing them for their transgender status. The use of solitary confinement as a means of protecting transgender inmates absolutely must be limited. It is not acceptable to trade the violence and cruelty of prison rape for the violence and cruelty of long-term solitary confinement.

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VICTORY: Department of Justice Releases National Standards to End Prison Rape and Abuse

May 17, 2012

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.

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Why NCTE Cares About the Prison Rape Elimination Act Standards

May 15, 2012

If you have seen NCTE’s Blueprint for Equality, you know that the federal agenda we’re working on is both complex and comprehensive. Every issue on the agenda is important. Some of the issues are truly life saving, while others are simply necessary steps to full equality. All of it is important to some trans people who are facing obstacles to living fully. And one of these issues I’m really proud of working on is the National Standards to Prevent, Detect and Respond to Prison Rape.

In 2003, the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) was passed by Congress and signed by President Bush. The Republican Senate, the Republican House and the Republican President all agreed that, regardless of various positions on corrections and crimes and related issues, in the United States we all agree that sexual assault in prison is unacceptable and must be stopped. A Congressionally appointed commission and the U.S. Department of Justice spent nearly a decade studying the issue and developing national standards to address all aspects of the problem. And NCTE has provided input all along the way.

And very soon—hopefully within weeks—the U.S. Department of Justice will release standards that could help significantly decrease rape in prison. We have not yet seen the final standards, but we are hopeful that our advocacy has influenced them in terms of how trans people are classified housed and searched among other things.

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GAO Launches Investigation of Sexual Abuse of LGBT Immigrant Detainees

February 8, 2012


Last week, the National Journal reported that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) will pursue requests from 30 members of Congress to investigate alleged sexual violence and abuse within facilities that hold immigration detainees. The GAO investigation comes in light of numerous complaints filed by the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) and other organizations on behalf of LGBT immigrants who were sexually abused while in custody of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). LGBT advocates welcomed the investigation while also pressing the Department of Justice to release long-delayed national rules to prevent sexual abuse in detention, and to ensure those rules apply to DHS facilities.

Since 2009, NCTE has worked closely with Immigration Equality, NIJC and many other human rights advocates to address pervasive abuse and neglect of LGBT immigrant detainees, including physical and sexual abuse, prolonged isolation, and denial of needed transition-related and HIV-related medical care. Despite DHS’s promises of reform, detainees and their advocates on the ground report that these abuses have continued unabated. DHS has actively opposed the application of new federal rules under the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) to its facilities.

“Abuse in detention is a national crisis and one that disproportionately affects transgender people,” said NCTE Policy Counsel Harper Jean Tobin. “Congress and the Obama Administration have recognized that crisis, but when it comes to immigration detention the solutions are just not being put into place. DHS needs to live up to its commitments and implement real reforms now – and part of that means embracing PREA.”

NCTE worked closely with leading prison, immigration and sexual abuse prevention advocates to ensure that final PREA rules include adequate protections for LGBT people, including placing transgender women and girls in female housing on a case-by-case basis. NCTE continues to work with allies to press for application of PREA to all types of detention facilities.

88,500 Sexually Abused in US Prisons and Jails

September 10, 2010

At the end of August the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) release the latest in a string of damning reports showing the prevalence of sexual abuse in U.S. prisons,  jails and detention facilities. The new government report finds that at least 88,500 adults were sexually abused in U.S. prisons in jails last year, a number that included 4.4% of all prison inmates and 3.1% percent of all jail inmates. This follows a BJS report from January finding that more than 12% of youth in juvenile detention in the United States had been sexually abused in the previous year.

Although previous research led the National Prison Rape Elimination  Commission to conclude last year that transgender people are at especially high risk for sexual abuse in confinement, BJS does not collect data on gender identity, so we do not know how many transgender people were sexually abused in confinement in the United States. While a major California study recently found that as many as two thirds of transgender inmates in California had been sexually abused, we have no such data at the national level. However, BJS does track inmate sexual orientation, and we also know that most transgender inmates are identified in surveys (accurately in some cases, and not in others) as having “a sexual orientation other than heterosexual.” The BJS found that these “non-heterosexual” inmates were more than twice as likely to be sexually abused by prison staff and more than eight times as likely to be abused by other inmates; numbers for jails were similar. This data confirms that all LGBT people are at extreme risk for sexual abuse behind bars, and underscores both the need for federal data collection on transgender people and for prevention strategies that address the specific vulnerabilities of these inmates and detainees.

In May, NCTE joined hundreds of other organizations in filing formal comments urging the Department of Justice to adopt strong national standards to prevent sexual abuse in prisons that would specifically address the extreme vulnerability of transgender people in institutional settings. In June, the Justice Department missed the legal deadline for it to promulgate these much-needed standards. Meanwhile, incremental reforms being undertaken by some state and federal agencies, such as U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), fail to address the far-reaching scope of the problem. NCTE continues to work with allied organizations to urge the Department of Justice and ICE to take strong and decisive steps to prevent the abuse of transgender people and to address the extraordinary harms caused by sexual abuse.

Urge the Attorney General to Adopt National Standards to Prevent Prison Rape

April 30, 2010

Last summer, the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission issued a comprehensive report of its work to investigate the causes and impact of sexual assault and abuse in prison and their recommendations of ways to address and eliminate this crime. The bipartisan commission was formed as a result of the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA), which was passed unanimously by both houses of Congress. As mandated by Congress, the Commission also proposed a set of comprehensive national standards to prevent sexual abuse in all prisons, jails, and detention facilities.

The Commission heard testimony from several transgender survivors and advocates such as Esmerelda , a transgender woman who faced horrific abuse in immigration detention while seeking asylum from Mexico in 2003. (To see Esmerelda share her story, click here.) The Commission’s report and proposed national standards recognize that transgender people face an extremely high risk of sexual abuse in prisons by both staff and other inmates, and that all facilities must take specific steps to protect trans people without subjecting them to harmful isolation.

These standards were developed by a diverse group of nationally-recognized experts with input from sexual abuse survivors and their advocates, experienced corrections officials and academics. But powerful corrections industry forces are opposing the standards, saying preventing sexual assault and abuse is too expensive. The Justice Department needs to hear from people across the country, including the transgender community, who support

Our allies at Just Detention International have created a petition that makes it easy to communicate your support to Attorney General Eric Holder. Please take a moment between now and May 10 to urge the Attorney General to adopt strong national standards to prevent sexual abuse behind bars.

Update (May 11, 2010): You can now read a copy of the statement from the ACLU, National Center for Transgender Equality, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Transgender Law Center and Lambda Legal to Attorney General Holder Regarding the National Standards to Prevent, Detect, and Respond to Prison Rape.

New York Times Features Doctor Who Specializes In Trans Health Issues

April 30, 2010

NCTE commends the New York Times for focusing on transgender individuals’ health needs. The news article featured Dr. Laura Erickson-Schroth, who focused on transgender health during her studies. She is currently working on editing “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves,” a book that will cover various aspects of transgender life, including cultural, health, and legal issues.

The New York Times’ feature on Dr. Erickson-Schroth’s can be accessed here:

A second article posts her answers to readers’ questions, including one question by NCTE staffer Mul Kim. Dr. Erickson-Schroth addressed various questions on topics ranging from definitions of terminology commonly used by the transgender community and how medical providers can provide culturally competent care to their transgender patients. The article can be accessed here:

Eliminating Prison Rape

June 23, 2009

This morning, the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission issued a comprehensive report of its work to investigate the causes and impact of sexual assault in prison and their recommendations of ways to address and eliminate this crime. The bipartisan commission was formed as a result of the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, which was passed unanimously by both houses of Congress.

The report demonstrates a notable awareness of transgender issues, with sensitivity and specific recommendations to address the very clear and heightened risk of sexual assault faced by transgender people who are incarcerated. At NCTE, we applaud the work of the commission and their inclusion of urgently needed standards to increase the safety of transgender people within the prison system. We particularly want to thank all of the transgender and allied advocates who advised the commission and the transgender people who courageously shared their stories that became a part of this report. The impact of their work is clear here.

The rape of prisoners by officials, guards and other inmates is unconscionable and must never be tolerated. We hope that today’s report will move us one step closer to safety for transgender people who are behind bars.

Some of the transgender specific areas of the report include:

  • A recognition that transgender people are particularly at risk for rape and the use of examples of transgender people who have suffered sexual assault
  • A call for the determination of inmate placement on an individual basis, which is to include a consideration of multiple factors and not simply genital status
  • An emphasis on protection, rather than segregation: “Segregation must be a last resort and interim measure only. The Commission also discourages the creation of specialized units for vulnerable groups and specifically prohibits housing prisoners based solely on their sexual orientation or gender identity because it can lead to demoralizing and dangerous labeling.”
  • The need for screening of prisoners for risk factors, including gender identity and gender non-conformity, that could make them more vulnerable to sexual assault
  • A recognition of the particular risks faced by transgender girls who housed with boys in youth facilities, as well as the dangers to adult transgender people
  • The inclusion of specific language addressing searches of transgender people, “Medical practitioners conduct examinations of transgender individuals to deter¬mine their genital status only in private settings and only when an individual’s genital status is unknown.”

The full report can be ordered, viewed or downloaded on the Commission’s website at

We will continue to work with advocates for transgender people who are in prison and look to the implementation of the commission’s work.