It’s Your Health-Transgender People in Prison

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.