San Diego County to review protocols for transgender detainees

Five years ago the San Diego County Sheriff, Bill Kolender at that time, issued a two-page “training bulletin” as guidelines for handling transgender inmates at local jails.  The document provided Webster’s dictionary definition of transgender before adding the following:

It is believed that transgender individuals have always existed in our societies  These individuals are often viewed by their friends and families as the sex they are representing and their expectation is that society views them in the same manner.

The document was issued because of the death of a 35 year-old transwoman, Vanessa Facen.  She died in custody four days after a fight with deputies in the San Diego Central jail.  Even though she lived as a woman and had breasts, she had been housed with men because she still had male genitalia.  When the document was issued, the Sheriff’s Department also agreed to institute sensitivity training…but no formal policy was developed.

In 2011 several transgender inmates housed in a segregated unit at the George F. Bailey Detention Facility at Otay Mesa filed complaints with the Citizen’s Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB) against 11 deputies and medical staff.  

The transgender inmates claimed that guards made crude, sexual remarks to them, such as: “I’m going to miss watching you two shower,” “Look, it’s the ugliest girls in George Bailey,” “I’ve got a delivery of summer sausage. Can I park it in your rear?” and “Oh God, fucking faggots.  We’re surrounded by six, nasty, disgusting faggots.”  One guard was accused of trading his cell phone number to an inmate in exchange for a look at the inmate’s breasts.  The inmates also said they were denied access to religious and education programs and, in one case, AIDS medication.

CLERB couldn’t come to a decision on the complaints within the year allotted by state law, so the complaints were dismissed.  Although the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act requires local detention authorities to report publicly the number of sexual-harassment complaints, the Sheriff’s Department reported no allegations for 2011 on the required forms.

In a meeting with San Diego CIty Council President Todd Gloria and other gay advocates Sheriff Bill Gore committed to forming an LGBT advisory board.  Gore also agreed to grant unsupervised interviews with transgender detainees.

The inmates admitted that the lead compainant (since transferred to the state prison at Tehachapi) had a tendency to exaggerate.  Former chair of the city’s Human Relations Commission Nicole Murray-Ramirez reported that the inmates interviewed said that 95% of the guards treated them respectfully, even using female pronouns to address them.

But the other 5% can sure spoil a person’s day.  And why should we celebrate being addressed with correct pronouns?  That’s not cookie-bearing behavior.  That should be the default.

But many of the complaints were reaffirmed, including lack of access to religious services and private substance-abuse counseling, Murray-Ramirez says.  One inmate reiterated a complaint that HIV medication was not provided for at least four days.

All transgender inmates are held in protective custody, which means they’re housed near the unit reserved for sexually violent predators.  Several lamented the impression of some sort of similarity between transgender people and child molesters.

The 2007 bulletin was redistributed in 2009 and includes issues such as access to hormone therapy and bras and the exercise of sensitivity in regards gender, especially when it comes to strip searches.  The penal code requires that strip searches on inmates with male genitalia be performed by male guards, regardless of gender.

For these individuals the process can be frightening.  You should be able to understand that the level of stress and fear will be even higher for an individual who has been living as a woman for the past ten years and now finds they are being booked into a male facility.  You are encouraged to take a few moments to explain the process and answer questions to relieve some of their anxiety.

Little things go a long way to make an environment less hostile than it needs to be.

–Todd Gloria

As usual there is no provision made for or mention of female-to-male transgender people.

1 comment

    • Robyn on January 5, 2013 at 00:03

    …sort of item has so much meaning to me.  As some of you know, I was arrested as a draft dodger before serving as a correctional specialist (prison guard) for the US Army at Ft. Leavenworth’s United States Disciplinary Barracks.  Also I experienced being arrested for using a woman’s washroom in a bus station in Boise during my transition.

    It is not uncommon for transwomen to become incarcerated.  Police tend to believe that all transwomen are prostitutes.  Since there are so few opportunities for legitimate employment for transwomen, many of us do indeed end up working in the underground economies of sex work and/or drug trafficking.

    So just saying, “Don’t do anything illegal” as a solution to maltreatment during incarceration largely expresses a lack of understanding.

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