Civil Rights Bill for Transgender People in Correctional Facilities Approved by Senate Public Safety Committee

April 10, 2018

Sacramento –  Today the Senate Public Safety Committee approved the Dignity and Opportunity Act, a bill authored by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) to expand civil rights protections for transgender individuals in California jails and prisons. This includes creating certain gender identity rights and preventing exclusion from programming and work opportunities.

SB 990 was passed by a bipartisan 6-0 vote, and now moves to the Senate Judiciary Committee for a hearing.

“Transgender people deserve to be treated with dignity and be granted the opportunities to work and access programming just as everyone else does,” said Senator Wiener. “We shouldn’t be excluding anyone or treating them worse than others, simply because they are transgender or have a gender identity that differs from what their birth certificate says. This bill is an important step to expanding the rights of transgender people.”

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 male 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.

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.