On April 18 a rally was held at the Capitol in Sacramento to support Proposition 36, the Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act of 2000, which allows people convicted of non-violent drug possession to receive drug treatment instead of imprisonment. When initial funding for the program ran out in 2006, Governor Schwarzenegger chose to continue funding only at 2000 standards, amounting to a significant cut. The event celebrated the success of the 72,000 graduates of Prop 36 who are living proof that offering treatment and support instead of removing people from their communities and imprisoning them works.
Transgender people face a unique set of health issues. Living without common respect or validation for your gender identity is a significant challenge to staying healthy. Then add to this reality being imprisoned, which is damaging to every person’s mental and physical health. Some of the serious problems faced by transgender people in prison include:
o Most states require that people be placed in correctional facilities according to the gender assigned to them at birth and not according to the gender they identify with: transwomen are incarcerated in prisons that house men and transmen are incarerated in prisons that house women.
o Most states also require that prisoners be called by their birth name – which is often different from the name a transgender person prefers to be called. This is an assault on a person’s fundamental identity, with impacts on a transperson’s physical and emotional health. In addition, the prisons often bar a person from keeping personal items (i.e. cosmetics and certain clothing) that are not considered “gender appropriate.” These rules are traumatic for trans prisoners and can result in depression, humiliation and anxiety.
o Decent health care is hard to find for any California prisoner, and often transgender prisoners face even greater difficulties accessing health care. Prison medical staff often ridicule and disrespect transgender people, dismissing their health concerns, and denying basic medical care and/or care related to their transition.
o While it is your right to continue hormone therapy once you are in prison in California, people are often denied this right.
o Not all transgender people go through medical treatment related to their transition. For those that do, it is critical that they receive consistent treatment. Disruptions in treatment can have severe health consequences.
o Because transgender people often do not receive decent health services before and during imprisonment, often have histories of rape, sexual abuse, sex work or drug use, and are often victims of sexual assault in prison, they are at particularly high risk for contracting HIV, HCV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
o Transgender prisoners often are targets of harassment and abuse by correction officers and other prisoners. Common types of abuse include verbal threats, public humiliation, intimidation, coercion, abusive pat frisks, physical and sexual assault, and forced sexual relations.
o Many transgender prisoners will not use the prison grievance system because they fear retaliation by staff.
o Because there is little recourse from official institutional channels, some transgender prisoners have sexual relationships with other prisoners or staff for “protection.”
o When prison officials do respond to violence against transgender people inside, it is often by placing them in ?protective custody? (PC), where they are segregated from the general population and denied the opportunity to program with other people, losing the few rights and privileges available to prisoners in general population. For example, prisoners in PC may spend up to 23 hours a day in isolation and are restricted from participating in educational and vocational programs.
o Being placed in ?protective custody?, separated from the general population, it is easier for prison staff to single out transgender prisoners for harassment and abuse, and long periods of isolation often results in severe trauma.
CCWP wants to thank the Women in Prison Project of the Corrections Assoc. of NY; The Sylvia Rivera Law Project; and the Transgender Law Center (SF) for information contained in this article. Please send us your stories, experiences and thoughts to print in future issues of The Fire Inside.
Hudie Joyce Walker was released on May 1, 2007 after serving 16 years of a 19 years-to-life sentence for killing her abusive husband. In February 2007 the Court of Appeals granted Ms. Walker’s habeas petition, overturning her conviction. Ms. Walker was represented by a Habeas Project volunteer legal team from Latham & Watkins. It is the first published decision under Penal Code section 1473.5 which allows expert domestic abuse testimony not permitted at the time of her trial.
Sandra Redmond was released on June 14, 2007 after nearly 24 years in prison based on Penal Code section 1473.5. Ms. Redmond was represented by Carrie Hempel of the USC Post-Conviction Justice Project which is part of the statewide Habeas Project. Although Gov. Schwarzenegger had reversed the Parole Board’s decision to release Sandra Redmond on parole on March 19, 2007, the courts recognized the injustice of Sandra’s continued incarceration and she is now free!
Flozelle Woodmore was released after the Governor finally approved her parole. She had served 20 years of a 15-years-to-life for killing her abusive boyfriend in 1986, when she was just 18 years old.
…And Outrageous Denials
Mary Shields’ parole, granted in May, 2006, was rescinded on March 14, 2007. This was a huge blow to Mary and her family. CCWP hopes that the Board will find Mary suitable for release in August and that she will be back with her family.
Elnora Francis’ parole decision was reversed on March 2, 2007 by Gov. Schwarzenegger. This was the third time that the parole board had recommended Ms. Francis for release.
On February 2nd, 2007, Gov. Schwarzenegger reversed parole for 67-year-old Vonda White. Vonda has been in prison since 1979 after being convicted of 1st degree murder. The Governor reversed Vonda’s parole despite the fact that she has been write-up free for the more than 28 years she has been in prison and had support from hundreds of concerned community members from around the country, including her sentencing judge.
Write the governor to tell him that Mary Shields, Elnora Francis and Vonda White should be released!
State Capitol Building
Sacramento, CA 95814
Thanks in part to Free Battered Women for the information on releases and denials of incarcerated survivors and to the women prisoners for the information about your own cases. WE INVITE ALL OUR READERS TO SEND US INFORMATION ABOUT YOUR OWN RELEASE DATES OR DENIALS!