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Jail to house transgender inmates with preferred gender

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San Francisco County Jail No. 5 in San Bruno, Calif. The City’s jails are in the process of becoming the first in the nation to house transgender inmates with their preferred gender. (Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner)
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The San Francisco County Jail by year’s end will be the nation’s first county jail to allow transgender people to be housed with their gender preference, according to Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, who is up for reelection this fall.

The move will start in weeks by taking transgender individuals to the women’s jail to attend classes. By the end of this year, each transgender inmate’s housing location will be decided on a case-by-case basis.

The development comes after years of the Sheriff’s Department working with transgender and LGBT rights groups to end the targeting of transgender inmates behind bars.

Unlike state prison policy, which only puts transgender people in new facilities when their transition is complete, Mirkarimi’s plan will allow pre-operation transgender inmates permanently into new populations. “Some will still have their penis,” Mirkarimi said, to make it clear what the new classification will immediately mean.

Currently transgender inmates are segregated from the general jail population. There are six transgender women currently at the jail. The final step to change the housing clarification will also include transgender men.

“The conventional practice of municipal jails and prisons in this country is to make invisible, suppress or isolate inmates who are transgender,” Mirkarimi said.

Katherine Raynal, a transgender inmate, is currently housed with male inmates in San Francisco County Jail No. 4.  (Connor Hunt/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Katherine Raynal, a transgender inmate, is currently housed with male inmates in San Francisco County Jail No. 4. (Connor Hunt/Special to S.F. Examiner)

National Center for Lesbian Rights Senior Staff Attorney Amy Whelan said “there is no question” the change will improve the daily lives of transgender women. “This is only a first step, though, and there is a lot more that we must do to ensure that San Francisco is a leader when it comes to criminal justice issues,” she said.

Sheriff’s deputy union head Eugene Cerbone doesn’t think the first step in the plan is a bad idea, except in cases where women aren’t supervised by deputies. But he’s concerned about transgender women eventually living with females if they haven’t fully transitioned.

Not everyone in the transgender community is behind the plan. The Transgender Law Center’s Flor Bermudez said she has concerns about its rollout.

Bermudez said the interim plan to move transgender women back-and-forth between the men’s and women’s facilities to attend classes is troublesome. That, says Bermudez, will only expose those inmates further. “In fact, we don’t believe it solves the problem at all,” said Bermudez, who instead thinks the housing plan should start immediately because the interim plan “in fact makes them targets of further abuse.”

Transgender people face an usually high threat of sexual assault in and out of jails, say activists. “Trans people face sexual assault as victims more often than [as] perpetrators by large, large percentages,” Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told the San Francisco Examiner in 2014. “It is a horrible, horrible epidemic.”

She added transgender people are easier targets for all violence, especially sexual assaults because they are a marginalized group and easier to prey on.

A 2014 ACLU report on transgender jail issues said transgender people should be housed in facilities based on federal law requiring placement decisions according to individualized assessment.

But, said Melissa Goodman of the ACLU of Southern California, housing should not be simply based on anatomy.

The state prison system has 363 male-to-female inmates receiving hormone treatment and 22 female-to-male getting hormone treatment.

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