Is CA's new Senate Bill 132 right to house inmates according to gender identity?
- Gavin Newsom was elected on November 6, 2018, to serve as the 40th Governor of California. Before that, he served as the mayor of San Francisco.
- Newsom recently made headlines for the controversy surrounding his passing of Senate Bill 145, changes California’s sex offender registry to equalize young LGBT adults who may be in technical violation of statutory rape laws.
- SB-132 aims to “house transgender, gender-nonconforming and intersex (TGI) individuals in a manner that matches their gender identity,” and according to the Associated Press, SB-132 prohibits the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to deny inmate requests based on their “anatomy, sexual orientation or ‘a factor present’ among other inmates at the facility. But the state can deny those requests if it has ‘management or security concerns.’”
- Both SB-145 and SB-132 have been authored by California Democratic Senator Scott Wiener.
California's new law, SB-132, is terrible policy that will ultimately place many more people at risk. Supporters unequivocally argue the law is an effort to protect the rights, health, and safety of the trans community while incarcerated. However, laws to protect trans-inmates already exist. If implemented properly and fully, they would do much to eliminate risk. Newsom undoubtedly knows this but is choosing to put California on the 'cutting edge' of policy, thereby endangering people.
Studies show rates of violence among transwomen are nearly identical to those of males. Add to that the percentage of roughly 50% of female prisoners who have previously been violently assaulted, it could understandably be terrifying to women to have biological (even if not self-identifying) males housed with them. Regardless of their self-identification, transwomen may not have fully transitioned. Often, they still inhabit male bodies, intact with their male genitalia, not to mention bone density, muscular structure, and, consequently, strength. There are already known instances of violence perpetrated by transwomen against biological women slandered as 'TERFs.'
Additionally, prison facilities and staff are not equipped to handle medical needs arising with inmates whose birth sex mismatches the facility in which they'd now be housed due to their gender identity. This is inherently dangerous for the trans-population. Trans-inmates should absolutely be protected against violence from other prisoners and even guards/staff. But given the small percentage of the population falling into the intersection of both trans and criminal, dealing with each person on an individual basis while avoiding the denial of biological sexual differences is much wiser than implementing blanket policy attempting to mollify one portion of the population while actually endangering them and others.
In many prisons, transgender inmates are currently housed based on their sex at birth, rather than the one they now identify as. This subjects them to severe discrimination and dangers that go above and beyond the regular risks of prison violence and death the general prison population faces as a whole. Housing inmates according to their expressed gender is an important first step to ending the stigma of criminalized trans and nonbinary people in America.
Prisons are especially dangerous for LGBT and gender-nonconforming inmates. A 2009 study in California showed that transgender inmates are 13 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than other inmates. The National Center for Transgender Equality writes that trans people are also subject to discrimination and abuse from the prison system. This includes high rates of sexual assault by prison staff, denial of medical care, and excessive stays in solitary confinement. Transgender inmates are also denied gender-affirming clothing when they are imprisoned with members of the opposite gender. Giving trans inmates the option to be housed with their expressed gender shields them from some of this discrimination and creates a chance for them to escape potentially life-threatening situations.
The bill allows for exceptions in case of security concerns, although it is unlikely there will be many exceptions. Trans people are subject to severe dangers in prison. They have the right to receive housing that respects their gender identity and does not endanger their health and safety.