The Trump administration rolled back Obama-era protections Friday that had allowed transgender inmates to use facilities matching their gender identity, including cell blocks and bathrooms, BuzzFeed reports.
Federal law previously required housing and other prison services for transgender people to be determined based on case-by-case decision, not solely by genitalia or gender assigned at birth.
These regulations were established in 2012 as part of the Prison Rape Elimination Act to help protect transgender prisoners from sexual assault. A guidance memo, issued days before Obama left office, noted that transgender inmates face an “increased risk of suicide, mental health issues, and victimization.”
Policy guidelines now instruct prison officials to “use biological sex as the initial determination for designation” for housing assignments, strip searches, medical care, and other services.
While the revised policy still takes a transgender inmate’s safety under consideration, it states that federal officials must now also “consider whether placement would threaten the management and security of the institution and/or pose a risk to other inmates in the institution.”
These new guidelines make it easier for federal officials to place transgender women in cells alongside men, which LGBT advocates argue puts transgender inmates at a greater risk for sexual assault.
The Bureau of Prisons made the policy changes after several evangelical Christian women in a Texas prison sued in U.S. District Court, claiming that sharing quarters with transgender women “creates a situation that incessantly violates the privacy of female inmates; endangers the physical and mental health of the female Plaintiffs and others, including prison staff; [and] increases the potential for rape.”
“The designation to a facility of the inmate’s identified gender would be appropriate only in rare cases,” reads the newly revised Transgender Offender Manual.
“The manual now addresses and articulates the balance of safety needs of transgender inmates as well as other inmates, including those with histories of trauma, privacy concerns, etc., on a case-by-case basis,” says Nancy Ayers, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Prisons.
The word “necessary” has also been inserted into a section covering hormone and medical treatment, indicating prison officials will have more power in determining which hormone therapies and other gender-confirmation services inmates receive.
These policy revisions follow the Trump administration’s withdrawal of protections for transgender students and evolving efforts to ban transgender people from U.S. military service.
“The extreme rates of physical and sexual violence faced by transgender people in our nation’s prisons is a stain on the entire criminal justice system,” says Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “Instead of leaving the existing policy alone, the administration is clearly prepared to encourage federal prisons to violate federal law and advance its own inhumane agenda.”
According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, transgender individuals are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of the general public, with the rate of imprisonment for black transgender women at 47%.