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Does a policy that houses transgender or intersex inmates based exclusively on external genital anatomy violate Standard 115.42(c) & (e)?

March 24, 2016

Does a policy that houses transgender or intersex inmates based exclusively on external genital anatomy violate Standard 115.42(c) & (e)?

Yes.  Standard 115.42(c) states:

In deciding whether to assign a transgender or intersex inmate to a facility for male or female inmates, and in making other housing and programming assignments, the agency shall consider on a case-by-case basis whether a placement would ensure the inmate’s health and safety, and whether the placement would present management or security problems.

In addition, Standard 115.42(e) states:

A transgender or intersex inmate’s own views with respect to his or her own safety shall be given serious consideration.

Being transgender is a known risk factor for being sexually victimized in confinement settings.  The standard, therefore, requires that facility, housing, and programming assignments be made “on a case-by-case basis.”  Any written policy or actual practice that assigns transgender or intersex inmates to gender-specific facilities, housing units, or programs based solely on their external genital anatomy violates the standard.  A PREA-compliant policy must require an individualized assessment.  A policy must give “serious consideration” to transgender or intersex inmates’ own views with respect to safety.  The assessment, therefore, must consider the transgender or intersex inmate’s gender identity – that is, if the inmate self-identifies as either male or female.  A policy may also consider an inmate’s security threat level, criminal and disciplinary history, current gender expression, medical and mental health information, vulnerability to sexual victimization, and likelihood of perpetrating abuse.  The policy will likely consider facility-specific factors as well, including inmate populations, staffing patterns, and physical layouts.  The policy must allow for housing by gender identity when appropriate.

A PREA auditor must examine a facility or agency’s actual practices in addition to reviewing official policy.  A PREA audit that reveals that all transgender or intersex inmates in a facility are, in practice, housed according to their external genital status raises the possibility of non-compliance.  The auditor should then closely examine the facility’s actual assessments to determine whether the facility is conducting truly individualized, case-by-case assessments for each transgender or intersex inmate.  The auditor will likely need to conduct a comprehensive review of the facility’s risk screening and classification processes, specific inmate records, and documentation regarding placement decisions.

The Department recognizes that the decision as to the most appropriate housing determination for a transgender or intersex inmate is complicated.  Facilities may consider several methods to make these assessments.  Best practices include informing decisions on appropriate housing through consultation by facility administration, classification and security staff, and medical and mental health professionals.  However, a facility should not make a determination about housing for a transgender or intersex inmate based primarily on the complaints of other inmates or staff when those complaints are based on gender identity.

Importantly, the facility shall not place transgender inmates in involuntary segregated housing without adhering to the safeguards in Standard 115.43.

LGBTI Inmates/Residents/Detainees/Staff