San Francisco jail may soon house transgender inmates based on gender preference

Bay City News
Friday, September 11, 2015

SAN FRANCISCO -- San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi took the first step Thursday toward housing transgender inmates according to their preferred gender.

San Francisco Sheriff's Department officials said transgender women inmates living in County Jail No. 4, an all men's jail, will soon be able to take part in programming at the all women's jail, County Jail No. 2.

Department staff and inmates must first go through cultural competency training, which will begin next month and take about a month to complete, sheriff's officials said.

"The high majority of municipal jails and prisons in this country make invisible, suppress or isolate inmates who are transgender," Mirkarimi said in a statement. "The driving reason is for their protection. However, this practice comes at a dehumanizing cost."

The cost often is abuse and high recidivism rates because of neglect in jail and after the inmates are released, sheriff's officials said.

Once participation begins, the women will take part in programs such as the Five Keys Charter High School, empowerment classes for women and substance abuse classes, according to sheriff's officials.

The initiative by the sheriff's department is a joint effort with the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Transgender Law Center, the TGI Justice Project and the Human Rights Commission.

"There is no question that moving these women to the women's jail will improve their daily lives," National Center for Lesbian Rights senior staff attorney Amy Whelan said in a statement.

Sheriff's officials said the cultural competency training is key to the new initiative and involves continuing to use proper pronouns, understanding the effect of misgendering and efficiently addressing the harassment and violence against transgender inmates.

Addressing the risk of sexual violence is particularly important to transgender advocates, officials with the Transgender Law Center said.

"Unfortunately, while this policy addresses the needs of transgender inmates to have equal access to programming, it does not offer an adequate solution to the dramatically increased risk of sexual assault transgender women in prison face," the TLC's detention project director Flor Bermudez said in a statement.

Bermudez said San Francisco must have policies that comply with the National Prison Rape Elimination Act standards.

The TGI Justice Project, another advocacy group, said taking care of its sisters housed in prisons and jails is its priority. But TGI Justice Project executive director Janetta Johnson said in a statement, "This policy is a step in the right direction, but our community as a whole has to do a lot more to keep these women out of jail in the first place."