Transgender Prisoners in Crisis

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Nearly one in six transgender Americans has been to prison—and nearly half of all black transgender people. Once behind bars, discriminatory policies and the constant threat of sexual assault can make prison a living hell for this already mistreated group.

The transgender prison crisis is part of a larger pattern of violence and discrimination in U.S. society that disproportionately affects people of color, poor people and transgender and gender-nonconforming (TGNC) people. “Over-policing and profiling of low-income people and of trans and gender-nonconforming people intersect,” as the Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP) describes it, “producing a far higher risk than average of imprisonment, police harassment, and violence for low-income trans people.”

Violence against TGNC people tends to be worse in places that are separated by sex such as county jails, immigration facilities and prisons. In the U.S., transgender prisoners are still usually housed according to the sex assigned at birth, instead of by gender identity—one’s inner sense of being male or female. This policy makes transgender prisoners more vulnerable to harassment or attack by staff or fellow prisoners: A California study found that transgender prisoners were 13 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than non-transgender prisoners.