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In Congress and courts, a push for better care for trans prisoners

Olivia Bridges, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats are pushing for more information about the living conditions of transgender inmates in federal prisons and jails amid a spate of lawsuits about alleged civil rights violations, including a refusal to provide gender-affirming care.

Available research on transgender inmates is limited to data dating back several years and is not necessarily reflective of today’s conditions. A 2015 study by the National Center for Transgender Equality found that 37 percent of transgender inmate respondents who had been taking hormones prior to incarceration were prohibited from continuing treatment within the past year.

“People who are incarcerated also need to be treated with dignity and deserve access to medically necessary care, including gender-affirming care,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., who co-chairs the Congressional Equality Caucus’ Transgender Equality Task Force.

Jayapal was among more than 30 Democrats to sign a June 2023 letter urging the Government Accountability Office to investigate the matter, and the GAO has begun its investigation. The timeline and scope of the investigation is currently unknown, but Jayapal says Democrats are “trying to push them to do it as quickly as possible.”

The Democrats asked that the GAO at a minimum evaluate access to gender-affirming care and items, rates of sexual assault and physical violence, instances of solitary confinement and housing practices and policies, including if federal prisons and jails are following guidance from the Federal Prisons Bureau.

Shifting policies

 

Their request comes after upheaval in how federal prisons have treated transgender inmates.

In 2018, the Trump administration mandated that all federal inmates be housed according to their sex assigned at birth. That policy was reversed by the Biden administration in 2022.

Under current policy, transgender inmates’ designations are referred to the Transgender Executive Council, which is required to consider an inmate’s current gender expression and outlines that transgender individuals have the right to be called by their chosen name and pronouns. But the manual applies only to federal jails and prisons.

The policy mimics regulations from the 2003 prison rape elimination law requiring transgender or intersex inmates to be assigned to a facility on a case-by-case basis by considering the inmate’s health and safety, along with any potential management or security problems.

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