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California Bill Addresses Transgender "Inmates"

I am excited that people are talking about the impacts of gender identity and sexual orientation in prison.  I must say I am ALWAYS concerned about prison "officials" having power about deciding housing based on one’s gender identity or sexual orientation.  I become concerned because I fear that the prison/jail can use these "housing decisions" as an opportunity to house all the queers and queens together and use that as an outlet for guard violence (as was the case in Columbus, Georgia) and I also am concerned that it continues on the assumption that all queer and trans people are safe among each other as if there is not violence within our own differing communities.  The prison industrial complex itself is the violence, housing changes are not the solution.  With all that said, I pray this bill provides an opportunity for queer and trans prisoners to have a safer experience locked behind the bars as we work to tear the walls down.  Also, this article sucks, is wildly transphobic/trans-ignorant and the author’s choice of quotes are wildly offensive at moments. 

Bill addresses transgender inmates in Calif.

Associated Press Writer

SACRAMENTO — The state Assembly will
consider a bill as early as Thursday that would require state prison
officials to take inmates’ sexual preference and gender identity into
account when they make housing decisions.

The bill by Assemblyman
Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, is supported by gay rights groups that
cite studies showing that homosexual, bisexual or transgender inmates
are more vulnerable to abuse. It has cleared two committees with little
opposition.

Currently, state law requires officials to consider
factors such as age, criminal history and mental health in deciding
where to house inmates. The department’s policy is to classify inmates
based on their physical gender, regardless of how they identify themselves.

Just one inmate who was born a male is housed in a California women’s
prison because she is the only inmate known to have undergone a sex
change operation, said Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the California
Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. California does not pay
for inmates’ sex change operations, but Thornton said the inmate was
altered while serving a previous sentence in Texas.

At
least one other male transgender inmate has requested a transfer to a
women’s prison, but cannot be moved there under current prison
policies, Thornton said.

A study released this week by the
University of California, Irvine says transgender inmates,
predominantly men who dress and act like women, are particularly likely
to be assaulted.

It found 332 male transgender inmates within the
state prison system, just a fraction of its 170,000 inmates.
Researchers interviewed nearly all of them to determine whether they
had been harassed or assaulted and to get their housing preferences.

Nearly
60 percent reported being sexually assaulted by other inmates, a rate
13 times higher than for a random sample of the general inmate
population. Nearly 70 percent reported being the victim of sexual
misconduct, which was more broadly defined than assault.

Even so,
nearly 60 percent of male inmates who presented themselves as women
opposed being housed in women’s prisons. Many told researchers they
wanted to avoid the "bickering" and "drama" they believed characterized
women in prison.

"They like to be around men," said criminologist
Valerie Jenness, the study’s author. "These are overwhelmingly
heterosexual women who like to be around men and have relationships
with men."

Quintin Mecke, a spokesman for Ammiano, said the UC
Irvine study illustrates the complexity of sexual orientation and
gender issues. Corrections officials should at least be required to
consider that complexity when deciding where to house inmates, he said.

"Right now, it’s not even in the mix," Mecke said.

The
researchers found transgender inmates were more likely to be assaulted
by an inmate of another race and by someone they knew, the study found.
Those inmates also were less likely to get medical attention or
recognition from guards than were other inmates who suffered assault.

Thornton,
the prison spokeswoman, said many transgender inmates are housed in
"special needs" units for their safety even though they often don’t
want to be singled out.

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