S.F. county jails first in nation to implement new transgender policies

San Francisco County jails implemented some of the first transgender, gender variant and non-binary policies and procedures in the nation on Tuesday.

In an effort to make conditions safer for all inmates, San Francisco County’s jails will be the first in the U.S. to allow individuals who identify as transgender, gender variant or non-binary to choose their preferred housing, be identified by their proper pronoun and to choose the gender of the person searching them, according to the Sheriff’s Department.

The changes follow a July report from Attorney General Xavier Becerra that said the term “sex” should be assumed to refer to an inmate’s gender, including gender identity and gender expression in reference to search procedures.

“We’re using the Attorney General’s decision about gender identity,” San Francisco Sheriff Vicki Hennessy told the Examiner.

Previously, inmates were processed and detained based on the sex they were assigned at birth, not the gender with which they identify, a pattern which results in transgender women being jailed with cisgender men, according to Hennessy.

Since 2015, the Sheriff’s Department has housed trans women in a 12-person cell in a men’s facility. One of the goals of this new policy is to move them to the only jail in the county where women are housed.

“When I first got here in January 2016 all of the TGN [transgender, gender variant and non-binary]people were housed at the Hall of Justice jail, in a cell in the back of the men’s jails,” Hennessy said. “They had to walk a line through the jail, through people who were not very respectful to them.”

The transgender community makes up less than one percent of jail inmates, but has higher rates of poverty, harassment and unemployment than cisgender people, the sheriff’s department said.

Trans women are nine times more likely to be raped in prison and 33 percent of transgender inmates reported one or more instances of sexual victimization at a state or federal prison, according to a 2012 U.S. Department of Justice report.

For housing requests based on gender identity, there is a process the inmate must go through for a chance at correct gender-specific housing due to limited space. The new policies were implemented Tuesday, and Hennessy said she will not know how effective they are until they have been in effect for a while.

Along with proper housing, the Sheriff’s Department is changing how strip and cavity searches are conducted.

Currently, a search is performed by a deputy of the same sex as the inmate. With this new policy, transgender, gender variant and non-binary people will be referred to by their proper pronoun and searched by a deputy of the inmate’s preferred gender.


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