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How Transgender Inmates Live, Treated and Survive in Prison

Vick Thompson, Joanne Latham, and Jenny Swift's deaths in 2015 brought to light the appalling circumstances that transgender people face in detention. The three transgender women were sentenced to male jails, but instead of completing their sentences and returning to their loved ones, they opted to commit suicide. As a result, the purpose of this paper is to understand why a transgender person in prison could see death as the ultimate solution. Incorrect placement, harassment and physical assault by staff, insufficient access to healthcare, and harassment and sexual assault by fellow inmates characterize the transgender prisoner's life in jail. In most prison systems, the transgendered inmate is housed according to birth sex in case they have not had genital surgery. This is despite the time one has lived in their present gendered other types of medical transition such as hormones and facial surgeries. For Instance, Alexis Giraldo was sent to a men�s prison in California in 2006 despite the fact that she had undergone facial surgery and top surgeries to assume a female identity (Sexton et al 835). In a situation like this, it is possible to see how this placement exposes transgender people to danger since a woman who is sent to a male prison is likely to face sexual and physical assault by the male prisoners. This condition is even made worse by the fact that prisoners have no right in who their roommate will be and therefore it is possible that a transgender woman will be placed in the same room with a sex offender (Mackenzie et al 34).
In response to the concerns raised regarding placement of transgender people in prison, the Prison Rape Elimination Act(PREA) was crafted which emphasizes the need for prison officers to individualize and take into account a person�s safety during placement (Jenness & Fenstermaker 22). This has led to solitary confinement for transgendered prisoners since they do not fit the male or female prisons. The segregated units have negative impacts on the mental health of transgender people since it reduces their access to services rendered at the correctional facilities. Besides, segregating transgendered inmates stigmatizes them, and it is no wonder that most choose to commit suicide since they believe they are worthless. Besides, solitary confinement increases chances of harassment and abuse by correctional officers due to reduced oversight and visibility (Mackenzie et al 56). Therefore, transgendered prisoners are improperly placed which increases risks for violence acts against them hence making it difficult for them to survive in prison since in such circumstances, living to see another day becomes more important than reforming and changing criminal behavior.
Secondly, transgendered prisoners are exposed to physical and sexual assault by the correctional officers. Incarcerated transgendered prisoners experience countless unnecessary searches such as strip searches which demeans them and increases harassment and violence possibility from the correctional officers. Besides, since transgendered people are rarely placed in facilities that reflect their gender identity, they are exposed to cross-gender searches hence increasing the risk of sexual assault. For instance, a study conducted by the Department of Justice in 2012 found that 16.7% of incarcerated transgendered inmates reported sexual assault from the facility staff (Sexton et al 840). Despite that the law mandates correctional officers to protect the prisoners from foreseeable harm from third parties, evidence reveals that most cases of abuse suffered by women transgender prisoners comes from correctional officers. Also, transgendered people especially those in solitary confinement experience physical violence from the correctional officers (Osborne et al 1650). The main reason given as to why correctional staff abuse transgendered people is lack of training and awareness on how to handle them. Most correctional officers do not have a deep understanding of the biological factors that render one to be transgender. This ignorance is coupled by society�s prejudice towards transgendered people, and therefore the correctional officers are confused on how to treat transgendered prisoners hence resulting to violence.
Besides, the lack of sufficient oversight of correctional staff gives them a lot of freedom hence providing an opportunity for mistreatment of transgendered prisoners (Routh 654). For instance, when a transgendered person is put in solitary confinement, the correctional staff have absolute power over the prisoner, and in such a situation, the officer misuses this power by sexually or physically assaulting the transgendered prisoner (Jenness & Fenstermaker 14). Therefore, it is prudent to state that transgendered inmates suffer physical and sexual violence in the hands of the same people who should protect them during their time in the correctional facility.
Thirdly, transgendered inmates lack adequate access to medical care while in the correctional facility. In 2011, the U.S Bureau of Prisons adopted a new policy to give medical treatment to inmates with gender issues (Sexton et al 860). For example, the policy requires that transgendered people should be given hormone replacement therapy in case the inmate was receiving this treatment before imprisonment. However, it is extremely difficult for transgendered inmates to get HRT in prison since it involves recommendation from the prison�s medical specialist and even when approved, it is not automatic that the inmate will receive the treatment.
Also, the confinement of transgender prisoners in solitary places makes it difficult for them to access medical care since they are cut off from the services offered by the facility. Since most of the correctional officers are harsh and unfriendly, the transgendered inmates choose to keep their health problems to themselves instead of revealing them to the staff. Another mishap in the provision of medical services to transgendered inmates is lack of HIV testing during admission to the incarceration facility. This is despite the recommendation by Centre for Disease Control and Prevention regarding HIV testing for new inmates (Sexton et al 845). Even when the transgendered people are tested for HIV, they do not freely access medical treatment. For instance, Bamby Salcedo, a transgender woman was incarcerated at San Pedro Detention Centre in California, and though she was HIV positive, the correctional facility did not provide her with prescription drugs for two weeks (Jenness & Fenstermaker 27). Hence it is evident that transgendered prisoners experience unprecedented difficulties while trying to access medical services and this is perpetrated by inefficiency in the prison system and the discriminate towards transgendered people.
Finally, transgendered inmates are harassed and sexually assaulted by their fellow inmates. This usually occurs when a transgendered woman is placed in a male correctional facility and therefore expose them to sexual assault. For instance, Alexis Girlado retells how her incarceration in a male facility in 2006 exposed her to sexual and physical violence by the male inmates to the extent that one violent and abusive cellmate considered himself her husband and she underwent untold misery in his hands (Jenness & Fenstermaker 17). Despite calling upon the prison administration for a transfer, the authorities failed to act. This is despicable considering that she had been taken to the correctional facility to reform, but then she experienced more torture than correction. According to the statistics revealed by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2012, 11.2 % of transgendered inmates have reported sexual or physical violence from fellow inmates. This reveals that for the transgendered person, the real punishment is not the imprisonment but the misery, harassment and sexual violence they experience from their fellow inmates. This is against the provision of the constitution which prohibits physical and sexual abuse of all citizens. As well, mistreatment of transgender inmates is against the provisions of PREA which guarantees protection from sexual and physical harm for all inmates (Jenness & Fenstermaker 20). Even transgendered children incarcerated at Juvenile prisons have reported sexual harassment by their fellow inmates, and this reveals how this voice is deep-rooted in this country�s correctional system.
The discussion above clearly illustrates the living conditions for transgendered persons in correctional facilities. Most of them are improperly placed hence exposing them to risk of sexual assault. Besides, the correctional staff harasses and sexually molest the transgendered people even though they are mandated by the law to protect this vulnerable group. As well, transgender inmates lack adequate access to medical services due to inefficiency and discrimination against this group of inmates. Also, transgendered inmates experience physical and sexual violence from other inmates which practically makes life in the prison unbearable hence prompting some of them to take their lives. Therefore, all stakeholders in the correctional system ought to rethink the living conditions for transgendered inmates.

Cited Works
Jenness, Valerie, and Sarah Fenstermaker. "Forty years after Brownmiller: Prisons for men, transgender inmates, and the rape of the feminine." Gender & Society 30.1 (2016): 14-29.
Mackenzie, Sonja, Emma Rubin, and Cynthia Gómez. "�Prison is one place you don�t want your sexuality�. Sexuality, desire and survival among incarcerated behaviorally bisexual Black men in the United States." Champ pénal/Penal field 13 (2016).
Osborne, Cynthia S., and Anne A. Lawrence. "Male prison inmates with gender dysphoria: when is sex reassignment surgery appropriate?." Archives of sexual behavior 45.7 (2016): 1649-1663.
Routh, Douglas, et al. "Transgender inmates in prisons: a review of applicable statutes and policies." International journal of offender therapy and comparative criminology 61.6 (2017): 645-666.
Sexton, Lori, Valerie Jenness, and Jennifer Macy Sumner. "Where the margins meet: A demographic assessment of transgender inmates in men�s prisons." Justice Quarterly 27.6 (2010): 835-866.

September 21, 2021

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