Senator Wiener Introduces Civil Rights Bill for Transgender People in Correctional Facilities

March 22, 2018

Sacramento –  Today Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) announced a new civil rights bill to ensure that transgender individuals in California jails and prisons are treated equally and with dignity. Senate Bill 990 requires correctional facilities to allow people in custody to register their preferred gender identity and first name, and also that facility staff address people by these expressed preferences.

SB 990 further requires that if a transgender individual is housed outside the general population for their own protection —which is common due to heightened risk to sexual victimization and assault — the individual must receive equal access to programming and work opportunities despite being in solitary confinement or otherwise separate from the general population. Transgender women, in particular, are often housed in mail prison facilities and thus at great risk of victimization. They are frequently placed in solitary confinement, not for any transgression but rather for their own safety, and thus deprived of access to various prison services and work opportunities.

SB 990 is sponsored by the ACLU California, Equality California, and Lambda Legal. It also has the support of National Center for Lesbian Rights, TGI Justice Project, and Transgender Law Center.

“Every aspect of our criminal justice system, including correctional facilities, must treat people equally and with basic dignity and respect,” said Senator Scott Wiener. “This law ensures that transgender individuals — who are disproportionately victimized by discrimination — are allowed to affirm their gender identity and access the basic programming so essential to reducing recidivism and preventing isolation.” 

Currently, people in custody can petition a court to obtain a gender or name change, and a facility must use this new name in all documentation. However, transgender individuals do not have the opportunity to affirm their own gender identity and identifying information within correctional facilities, and facilities are not required to address them by their correct gender and name.  SB 990 requires, during the initial intake process at all jails and prisons, that individuals be given the opportunity to specify their gender identity, preferred first name, gender pronoun, and honorific during the intake process. SB 990 also requires that this information be used by facility staff. 

Additionally, LGBT people, particularly transgender people of color, are typically at much greater risk for sexual victimization and other forms of assault or harassment in correctional facilities. This often leads to removal from the general population and placement in limited access housing like solitary confinement. These isolated placements provide limited or no access to services like rehabilitative, educational, and religious programming, as well as work opportunities.

SB 990 requires that a person placed, for their own protection, in isolated housing situations like solitary confinement have equal access to programming and work opportunities that are provided to the general population.  SB 990 will not apply to individuals removed from the general population due to that individual’s own alleged violation of criminal laws or institutional rules. 

“This bill is an important step to ensure that transgender people have their identity and dignity affirmed while in custody and that they are not further punished simply because they are at greater risk of assault or harassment,” said Melissa Goodman, director of the ACLU of Southern California’s LGBTQ, Gender & Reproductive Justice Project.

"No one deserves to be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment — that's a fundamental American value and one enshrined in the Constitution," said Equality California Executive Director Rick Zbur. "This critical legislation will help eliminate harassment and abuse in our prisons, reduce recidivism rates and ensure that all inmates — regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation — are treated with dignity and respect."

"This bill recognizes the inherent dignity of transgender people and puts it into law,” said Richard Saenz, Lambda Legal Staff Attorney, Criminal Justice and Police Misconduct Strategist. “It also recognizes the importance of equal access to programming and work opportunities to help reduce isolation and reduce recidivism."

"This is a small but essential step forward in addressing the systemic abuse and mistreatment of transgender prisoners in our prisons and jails," said Amy Whelan, a Senior Staff Attorney with the National Center for Lesbian Rights.