San Francisco sheriff pioneers 3 new transgender policies at jail

San Francisco Sheriff's Department Voluntary Gender Identity Statement of Preference Form.

In an effort to make transgender inmates feel more safe, the San Francisco Sheriff announced on Wednesday three new policies that involve searches, proper pronouns and housing options, and complement more than two years of deputy gender-awareness training.

The new policies are: Inmates may now ask for a gender-specific deputy to do a visual body search - the first such jail to allow this in the nation; and they can express a preference where they would like to be housed so that their safety while showering and overall privacy can be better assured, Sheriff Vicki Hennessy said. In addition, effective immediately, inmates now can fill out a "statement of preference" form identifying their gender and how they want to be addressed in jail.

The visual searches will be conducted through two $300,000 body scanners, which any inmate can ask for, regardless of gender. Strip searches will be conducted only if an inmate triggers the system. The scanners are expected to be delivered in July. Sheriff's Association President Ken Lomba demanded the "immediate transition to body scanners" in response to the new transgender search policy.

Although the "transgender, gender variant and non-binary," or TGN, population comprises less than 1 percent of the total jail population," Hennessy also said they also make up the most "vulnerable communities in the United States and have higher rates of poverty, harassment and unemployment." 

Hennessey added: "Making them feel safe and facilitating their participation in the county jail’s rehabilitation programs will increase the chance TGN individuals won’t come back to jail. And that’s an outcome we all want for all individuals in our custody.”

As of Wednesday, the San Francisco jail had 13 inmates who identify as transgender or gender variant, according to jail spokeswoman Nancy Crowley.

Other transgender-friendly policies have been in place since 2016. Deputies have already been verbally addressing transgender inmates by their chosen pronouns and they have already been moved out of a 12-person cell in the Hall of Justice Jail at 850 Bryant St. near a men's unit, to the re-entry housing pod at County Jail #2 at 425 7th St. where they can attend classes and services, including those that are "TGNspecific."

The sheriff’s department developed and delivered a four-hour accredited POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training) course on gender awareness to more than 800 staff, which includes training on the new visual search policy.

The sheriff’s department consulted and collaborated with partners including TGN advocates and experts such as San Francisco Human Rights Commission Executive Director Theresa Sparks and Retired San Francisco Police Department Lt.Stephan Thorne;  the Transgender Law Center; Just Detention International; the San Francisco Police Department; the Department of Public Health; the San Francisco City Attorney; the San Francisco District Attorney; Attorney General of the State of California; San Francisco Sheriff’s Managers and Supervisors Association; and the San Francisco Deputy Sheriffs’ Association.