Calif. Senate passes bill to require that transgender inmates be housed by gender identity

The California Senate on Thursday voted to approve a bill requiring that prison guards to classify and house transgender inmates based on their gender identity – absent specific security concerns.

The legislation, authored by Scott Wiender (D-San Francisco) passed 29-6 and now heads to the Assembly for committee hearings.

According Equality California, a supporter of the bill, when transgender people are housed according to their birth-assigned gender, which is currently the typical practice, they are at heightened risk of violence, including sexual violence. This risk of violence often leads to transgender people being placed in isolation “for their own protection,” resulting in loss of access to services.

"Trans women, in particular," Wiener tweeted, "are now housed as men and then victimized. We should treat trans inmates with dignity and respect." 

Currently, inmates in California are housed based on the sex they are assigned at birth, not their gender identity or where they would be safest from harassment, abuse and violence, said Samuel Garrett-Pate, spokesman for Equality California. "This results in higher rates of sexual assault and other violence."

Garrett-Pate added that transgender inmates are also placed in "administrative segregation" — or solitary confinement — ostensibly for their own safety. "But isolation has been shown to cause significant mental health problems and contribute to higher recidivism rates," Garrett-Pate said.

If passed, SB 132 would require that the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation record the individual’s self-reported gender identity, preferred first name and preferred pronouns during the initial intake process. It would also require that  prison guards house people according to their gender identity, unless a specifically articulated security concern counsels otherwise, or the individual believes it would be safer to be housed according to their birth gender. Finally, it would require all staff and contractors "to consistently use the gender pronoun, honorific, and preferred name the individual has specified in all verbal and written communications with and regarding that individual."   

The bill has its share of critics.

A website called the "Women's Liberation Front," says the legislation will "harm one of the most vulnerable groups in society: incarcerated women." The group's authors write that the bill would "allow any male at any time to self-declare that he has a woman "gender identity," and on that basis allow him to demand to be housed in a women’s correctional facility," among some other complaints. 

In addition, Senators Patricia Bates, Andreas Borgeas, Shannon Grove, Brian Jones, John Moorlach, Mike Morrell, Jim Nielsen and Jeff Stone voted no. 

This story was reported from Oakland, Calif.