The Bureau of Prisons will now use assigned sex at birth to determine which type of housing transgender inmates are assigned. This removes an Obama era policy that had previously recommended that housing be assigned by gender identity when appropriate.
According to the new Transgender Offender Manual released on Friday, “The designation to a facility of the inmate’s identified gender would be appropriate only in rare cases,” after an inmate’s biological sex, personal risks, behavioral history and risks to the institution are first considered. It also states that inmates must demonstrate “significant progress towards transition as demonstrated by medical and mental health history’ if the other considerations are met.
The new policy also adds the word “necessary” to a section of the manual on hormone replacement and medical treatment, indicating that the agency will be able to determine which transition related treatments are required for consideration.
The shift in policy came after four evangelical Christian women in Texas sued in U.S. District curt challenging the previous Obama era guidelines. The suit claimed that the women were subject to dangerous conditions by being housed with transgender inmates. The discriminatory suit referred to transgender women as “men” and that being housed with transgender inmates increased their potential to be raped.
Though there is no evidence supporting the claim that the evangelical Christian women who filed the lawsuit are at a higher risk of assault by being housed with transgender women, a study by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics found that transgender women are nine times more likely than other prisoners to be victims of sexual harassment or assault.
Transgender advocates such as Mara Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, have spoken out against the new guidelines:
“Transgender people already know the Trump-Pence administration is dedicated to stripping away our rights. Their cruelty is only made more evident as they continually go after the most vulnerable among us.
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. 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.”
The guidelines against transgender inmates are yet the latest in a series of anti-transgender measures taken by the Trump administration. In August 2017 and March 2018, the administration attempted to implement a ban on transgender troops from serving in the military. Both times, the attempts have been held up by injunctions in federal courts. In October 2018, the administration determined that federal employee protections based on gender do not cover transgender people. In February 2018, they also rescinded Obama era guidance that said public schools should allow transgender students use the restroom according to their gender identity.