By Judah Largent, CLDC Law Clerk
Prison holds a particular set of horrors for the transgender community. Until recently, American prisons housed transgender inmates by genitalia, and gender-confirming treatments of any kind were unavailable to the vast majority of transgender inmates. Inside of prison walls, transgender inmates face elevated instances of physical and sexual violence from other inmates and from prison staff. Coupled with biased policing and disproportionate sentencing, minor and survival based criminal offenses turn into years of torture for transgender people.
The solution to housing for gender-variant people was initially to ignore their minority status altogether. When the violence against them became too great or bothersome to handle, transgender people often face years of ‘protective custody’ in solitary confinement. Nightmare stories of over thirty credible reports of sexual assault, self-castration, and degradation by guards are not uncommon stories from survivors leaving correctional facilities.
For years, transgender inmates had lost every case brought against the prison system. It wasn’t until this past year that cases were being heard and won thanks in part to the Prison Rape Elimination Act and two Executive Orders. Select federal jurisdictions are preparing to offer gender confirming treatments and surgical procedures to inmates. San Francisco will allow transgender and gender-variant inmates to choose if they want to remain in segregated housing or be housed in either men’s or women’s general population. A Georgia State prison was recently ordered to provide a transgender woman named Ashley Diamond with appropriate medical care and safe housing; instead of providing those, the governor ordered her released years before she was eligible for probation.
While these limited rulings are a useful and promising sign for transgender people, they barely scratch the surface of the systemic violence. Transgender women of color are murdered at a rate of approximately one in eight. Transgender youth are far more likely to be homeless than their cisgender peers. Transgender people are four times more likely to have incomes under ten thousand dollars per year. Police brutality is a given, and the trans panic defense (a method of mitigating murder to manslaughter because of surprise upon finding out someone is transgender) is still legal in forty-nine states.
Change for transgender people must happen at a national level, and the change is already years too late for many people. Demand real justice for transgender people, demand real justice for prisoners everywhere.
Short bio: Judah Largent is a law clerk at the CLDC and third-year law student at University of Oregon. He is a transgender activist, President of the UO chapter of Outlaws, and active in advocacy in the gender-diverse community. He also holds Bachelor’s degrees in Women’s and Gender Studies as well as Communication Studies.
 What Care Do Prisons Owe Transgender Inmates? <https://www.themarshallproject.org/2015/04/21/what-care-do-prisons-owe-transgender-inmates>
 Transgendered and Incarcerated: A Review of the Literature, Current Policies and Laws, and Ethics <http://www.jaapl.org/content/41/4/551.full.pdf>
 Targets for Abuse: Transgender Inmates and Prisoner Rape <http://www.nsvrc.org/sites/default/files/transgenderfactsheet1.pdf>
 Rights of Transgender Prisoners <http://www.nclrights.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/RightsofTransgenderPrisoners.pdf>
 “3 Years of Torture Is Enough”: A Transgender Inmate Sues Georgia Prisons <http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/02/transgender-inmate-sues-georgia-prisons-torture>
 Hundreds Of Illinois Prison Staff Allegedly Choked, Beat, And Sexually Assaulted Inmates <http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2015/03/20/3636918/correctional-unit-beat-sexually-abused-inmates-throughout-illinois/>
 Transgender inmate wins suit against Maryland prison officials <http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/09/25/usa-maryland-transgender-idUSL1N11U32K20150925>
 Federal Appeals Court Upholds Transgender Inmate’s Right to Health Care <http://transgenderlawcenter.org/archives/9720>
 San Francisco jails to house transgender inmates based on gender preference <http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-transgender-san-francisco-jails-20150910-story.html>
 Ashley Diamond, Transgender Inmate, Is Out of Prison but Far From Free <http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/25/us/ashley-diamond-transgender-inmate-out-of-prison-but-not-fully-free.html>
It’s War in Here <http://srlp.org/files/warinhere.pdf>
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 Cisgender: Identifying with the gender assigned at birth. See briefly: “What Does ‘Cisgender’ Mean?” < http://time.com/3636430/cisgender-definition/”
 Gay and Transgender Youth Homelessness by the Numbers <https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/lgbt/news/2010/06/21/7980/gay-and-transgender-youth-homelessness-by-the-numbers/>
 8 critical facts about the state of transgender America <https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/01/22/the-state-of-transgender-america-massive-discrimination-little-data/>
 California Becomes First State to Ban Gay, Trans ‘Panic’ Defenses <http://www.advocate.com/crime/2014/09/29/california-becomes-first-state-ban-gay-trans-panic-defenses>