Federal Commission Recognizes Victimization of LGBT Prisoners in Report
June 23, 2009
In 2003, Congress unanimously enacted the Prison Rape Elimination Act, showing a strong commitment to protecting incarcerated individuals from sexual abuse. The act established a National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, tasked with the duty of studying the causes and consequences of such abuse and providing solutions for prevention. Today, the Commission released its report, and it includes extensive discussion about the need to protect incarcerated members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. The Commission found that LGBT individuals were particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse. For example, a study of a medium-security men’s prison in California indicated that the rate of sexual victimization was only 9 percent among heterosexual prisoners, but it was 41 percent among homosexual inmates. The report also puts human faces on statistics. It tells the story of Alexis Giraldo, a transgender woman who was sentenced to serve prison time in California. At the time, it was recommended that she be placed in a facility which had a high population of transgender individuals, but the recommendation was ignored and she instead served time in Folsom Prison and was raped and beaten by two other inmates. The Commission’s report recognizes and emphasizes the sheer gravity of the problem: “The discrimination, hostility, and violence members of [the LGBT community] often face in American society are amplified in correctional environments and may be expressed by staff as well as other incarcerated persons.” The Commission’s findings are not limited to adult male prisons: “One study reported that a quarter of the women sexually abused in several Midwestern correctional facilities were either lesbian or bisexual – a higher proportion than their representation in the correctional population.” The report also acknowledges that “juvenile facilities are often homophobic places that are emotionally, physically, and sexually unsafe for these youth.” The Commission recommends a number of solutions to help solve this ongoing epidemic. For example, the report, recognizing that many incorrectly assume segregation of LGBT individuals will solve the problem, discusses the need for more protection of LGBT prisoners. Although the Commission does propose screening and classifying prisoners to place them in the proper environment, it stops short of outright recommending that transgender individuals be placed in facilities housing members of that individual’s self-identified gender. The Commission also fails to mention a similar need to protect transgender detainees who are being held for violating immigration laws. As part of its Blueprint for Positive Change, HRC has recommended that the federal Bureau of Prisons and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement revisit their policies regarding the assignment of transgender prisoners, as well as their medical care, to ensure that they are treated humanely and not exposed to potential abuse. HRC's white paper recommendations:
- Ensure Humane Treatment for Transgender Detainees [pdf]
- Sex-Segregated Placement of Transgender Inmates in Federal Prison Facilities [pdf]
- Proper Medical Treatment for Transgender Inmates in Federal Prison Facilities [pdf]
Hopefully, the Commission’s report will not fall on deaf ears, and changes will be implemented so that our society can finally heed the words of the Supreme Court in Farmer v. Brennan, the case of transgender prisoner who had extensive abuse: “[Sexual abuse is] not part of the penalty that criminal offenders pay for their offenses against society.” This post contributed by HRC Law Fellow Phil Medley.