Jasmine Jones, assistente legale del Transgender Gender-Variant & Intersex Justice Project in San Francisco

California: 261 inmates who 'identify' as women request transfer to women's prisons

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This story from California tells the story of what gender identity is: 261 inmates asking to be transferred to women's prisons. -where, if one can say so, life is a little less harsh than in men's prisons-. claiming to "identify" as women. Most of these prisoners keep their male bodies intact. and the only feminine one is the"self-perception', real or presumed. Among the inmates there is great alarm for obvious reasons. In Canada, as we reported herethe transfer of men self-identified as women to women's prisons has resulted in a marked deterioration in the living conditions of the detainees. There have been cases of rape and even unwanted pregnancies. Wherever legislation introduces gender identity - as in the case of the Zan bill soon to be debated in the Senate - the condition of women worsens drastically. At the end of the street is this. The impact of these laws on many aspects of women's lives is dramatic.. The case of prisons makes this clear.

Jasmine Jones, legal assistant to the Transgender Gender-Variant & Intersex Justice Project of San Francisco, is in contact with a number of women inmates in women's prisons who have expressed their concerns following a new law allowing prisoners to be housed according to their gender identity.

Kelly Blackwell wants to escape her life as a transgender woman in a California men's prison, where she struggles every day to avoid being seen in her panties and bra. Kelly said she was once admonished after reacting when an inmate in her cell asked her for oral sex.

After more than 30 years, including 20 years of hormone therapy, his chance came last autumn, when new legislation gave transgender, intersex and non-binary prisoners the right, regardless of anatomy, to choose whether to be housed in a male or female prison.

According to data from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation demand has been high, with 261 transfer requests since SB 132 came into force on 1 January. It is the beginning of aextremely delicate operation taking place in one of the largest prison systems in the country.

"I don't want to be around predatory men and a staff that discriminates against trans women," Blackwell, 53, said in a phone call from Mule Creek State Prison, east of Sacramento.

But more than two hours away, at the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla, there is fear. Inmates say guards have warned them that "men are coming," and to expect sexual violence.

"The officers told us that if we think it's bad now, we must be prepared for the worst. That we will have to cope, we will have to make sacrifices."says Tomiekia Johnson, 41. "They say we will need a facility that will be like a maternity ward. They say we're going to have an inmate programme where inmates become nannies."

Just over 1% of the California prison population - 1,129 inmates - identified themselves as non-binary, intersex or transgender, and all have experienced severe violence in prison. A 2007 UC Irvine study that included interviews with 39 transgender prisoners found that the rate of sexual assault is 13 times higher for transgender people, with 59% of subjects reporting having experienced it.

So far, the prison system has transferred four inmates to Chowchilla women's prison, approved 21 requests for gender-based accommodation and denied none. Of the 261 applications, all but six requested accommodation in a women's facility.

Prisoners' spokeswoman Terry Thornton said COVID-19 restrictions had slowed down transfers, and that officials cannot estimate how long a transfer would take under normal circumstances, citing bed availability as a determining factor.

The Los Angeles Times spoke to more than a dozen inmates in women's and men's prisons to understand how the new law is being implemented. Although supporters of the law and prisoners say the transfers have been well received, many argue that misinformation spread by prison staff is fomenting transphobia, and that more needs to be done to educate prisoners.

Some prisoners are concerned that inmates make false statements about their gender identity in order to be transferred to women's prisons, and they say that the staff told them that this slowed down the process.

Thornton told the Times the prison system organised a discussion in the town hall with theInmate Advisory Council at Chowchilla and with trans women at San Quentin State Prison. The meeting and ongoing discussions "helped dispel any fears," he said, adding that allegations of staff misconduct were being taken seriously and investigated.

Asked whether inmates in men's prisons trying to manipulate the transfer system was a significant problem, Thornton said that "a person's gender identity is self-reported, and the CDCR will assess any request made by an incarcerated person for an accommodation based on gender".. He said the prison system required several million dollars from the state to help implement the law.

In recent years, the Connecticut and Massachusetts have passed legislation similar to that of CaliforniaIt also gives prisoners the right to be searched and addressed according to their gender identity. The laws align states with the Prison Rape Elimination Act, federal, or PREA, which prohibits accommodation decisions based solely on a prisoner's genitaliaand requires agencies to consider on a case-by-case basis whether housing would guarantee its health and safety. Despite PREA, advocates say it is rare for transgender prisoners to be transferred.

The new California law pursues other changes in the state's treatment of transgender prisoners. In 2018, a law came into force removing obstacles for prisoners to change their gender and name. And in 2015, California became the first state to create a policy for transgender inmates to request state-funded gender affirmation surgery. According to the prisons agency, from January 2015 to February 2021, 65 of 205 requests for surgery were approved and nine were completed.

According to prison policy, transgender and intersex people - the latter is a term used to describe the condition of a person born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that does not seem to fit the typical definitions of 'female' or 'male' - are placed, as far as possible, in specific prisons to ensure that they can receive certain medical and psychological treatments. Under the new law, all prisoners will be asked on admission about their gender identity, pronouns, whether they prefer female or male, and whether they want to be housed in an institution that aligns with their gender identity.

Inmates can request transfers from their correctional officer, and these are then considered by a committee that includes the warden, custody, medical and mental health staff, and a PREA compliance manager. Staff review the inmate's criminal record, health needs, custody level, sentence, and security concerns.

Michelle Calvin said inmates welcomed her with care when she moved in February from Mule Creek to Chowchilla Prison. But there was also tension. Inmates in two rooms refused to have her as a companion.

"There are many women here who accept me; there are some who don't," said Calvin, 50. "There will be adversity everywhere and I understand that."

Tyeasha Moore, housed a few doors down from Calvin, immediately warmed up to the newcomer. Calvin was "more than willing" to answer her many questions, including why she chose to come to that prison, and whether other inmates would follow her.

But Moore, 43, said he also heard practitioners question detainees housed with Calvin, asking if she had exposed herself, explained her sexual behaviour to them, or said things that made them feel uncomfortable. He said the interrogation fomented anxiety and false rumours that Calvin was having an affair.

The prison system assured that it had trained staff across the state on working with transgender, intersex and non-binary prisoners, including information on safe housing, search procedures and the use of pronouns. But some say it has not been effective enough.

Mychal Concepcion, a transgender man in the Chowchilla women's prison, said the widespread panic over transfers stems largely from operators asking female inmates: "What will you do when the men come?"

"Women complain that these are men who come here because they are traumatised by men, and therefore should not live with them", said Concepcion, 51. "I have said repeatedly that they are women, but that direct their anger at me".

Johnson, the detainee who revealed that staff had told her to expect violence with the transfers, said she is survivor of domestic violence by a man and that it would be shocking to live with non-operated transgender people.

"I think they should be safe, but this also violates my right to be safe."he said.

Tiffany Tooks, a transgender woman in Chowchilla Prison, also tried to address concerns. She moved out of Mule Creek in 2019 after undergoing the surgery.

"For me, it was everything," she said, explaining how the inmates welcomed her after she opened up about her experiences being in prison for more than 20 years - which included being raped and hearing inmates make sexually degrading comments when they saw her in the shower. "I feel it is my duty to help the women who come here.

Tooks said that in early March, he attended a meeting with the warden, prison staff and other transgender inmates to address the problem of prisoners trying to move under false pretences.

"The idea was to determine who the transgender inmates really are, and to understand the inmates' fear that men will infiltrate this prison system and cause problems".he said.

Several transgender prisoners in men's prisons claim that the problem is relevant.

A transgender woman in a men's prison, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation, said that knows at least five prisoners who have applied for transfer under false pretences and that the officers asked her to help identify these detainees.

"They wanted me to tell them in a confidential environment. who is transgender and who is not, so they can block transfers some of these guys to the women's prison," he said. "I told them I have no problem with that..... We feel they are going over our shoulders."

Jasmine Jones, a legal assistant of the Transgender Gender-Variant & Intersex Justice Project, which provides support services to detainees, was in contact with several dozens of female detainees in the women's facilities who were worried about transfers, explaining to them that was raped several times in prison and attempted suicide four times.

She said her story has resonated with many, but that she is still concerned about inmates who present as non-binary or transgender. Jones said. The law should have focused first on those who have transitioned or are in transition before allowing others to transfer.

But Jen Orthwein, a lawyer who represents transgender prisoners and worked on the bill, said that not all prisoners want or have access to hormone therapy or surgery, and that 'any expression of femininity in a male prison puts people in danger'.

At Mule Creek, Blackwell said when she was approved for transfer she felt relief but also concern about entering a new environment. She said it hurts to know that some people are anxious about her arrival, and said transgender women are not going to be predators. "They don't want to do things like that because that has been our life," she said. "All we really hope for is understanding and compassion."

original article here (translation by Elisa Vilardo)

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