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Hundreds of transgender prisoners request transfers to women’s prison under new California law

Chain-link fence at a jail. (Maxpexel/Released)
April 06, 2021

Over 200 state prisoners in California have asked to be transferred to facilities housing the opposite gender, citing a recent law that allows prisoners to be incarcerated according to the individual’s gender identity.

Last year, California lawmakers passed SB 132, which went into effect on Jan. 1. The law established that prisoners who self-identify as “transgender, nonbinary, or intersex” must be “addressed in a manner consistent with the incarcerated individual’s gender identity” and be “housed at the correctional facility designated for men or women based on the individual’s preference.”

The Los Angeles Times reported that of the 261 transgender prisoners, 255 were those who transition from male to female who requested to be transferred to a female prison.

The law states that it is to be applied “regardless of anatomy.”

“Gender transition is a deeply personal experience that may involve some combination of social transition, legal transition, medical transition, or none of these. Some transgender, nonbinary, and intersex people experience gender dysphoria that requires medical treatment, while others do not experience gender dysphoria,” the bill states.

“Due to safety concerns, inconsistent medical and mental health care, insufficient education and resources, and other factors, incarceration often serves as a barrier to gender transition,” the legislation continues. “Regardless of the ways in which a person chooses or is able to express their gender or to take medical, social, or legal transition steps, they deserve respect, agency, and dignity.”

California’s Democrat governor Gavin Newsom signed the bill into law in September 2020, praising the legislation as an “additional step forward” in “our march toward equality.”

According to the Times, the state’s prison system has approved 21 housing requests based on gender identification so far. The news outlet also noted that none have been denied.

The Times also reported that the transfer process has been delayed due to concerns linked to prisoners applying “under false pretenses,” noting that some female prisoners are scared of biologically male inmates transferring to a female facility.

Prison guards have reportedly warned female inmates of an incoming biologically male population, saying “that if we think it’s bad now, be prepared for the worst. That it’s going to be off the hook, it’s going to be jumping,” inmate Tomiekia Johnson told the Times. “They say we’re going to need a facility that’s going to be like a maternity ward. They say we’re going to have an inmate program where inmates become nannies.”

In addition to allowing transfers based on gender identity, SB132 also prohibits staff, contractors and volunteers from “failing to consistently use the gender pronoun and honorific” of an inmate, details the law states must be established during initial intake and classification.