California will begin housing transgender inmates by gender identity

In an effort to better protect the safety of incarcerated transgender people, a newly signed law will require California prisons to house inmates based on their gender identities in most situations.

Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco, is the chair of the California Legislative LGTBQ Caucus, and he authored the bill, calling the new law “life-saving legislation,” particularly for trans women who are subject to high levels of assault and harassment when they are held in men’s prisons.

A study of the state’s prisons found that the rate of sexual assault for transgender women in prisons was 13 times higher than for men in the same prisons, according to Senate Bill 132 that was signed into law on Sept. 26 by California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Transgender inmates are commonly housed in prison facilities based on their sex assigned at birth. This new law, though, will require the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to privately ask inmates during the intake process if they identify as transgender, intersex or non-binary, and then allow them to request to be placed in a facility that houses either men or women and according to their own sense of where they will be safest.

(AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

However, the state can deny an inmate’s requests if it has “management or security concerns,” and must give the inmate a written statement explaining the decision, after which inmates will have an opportunity to object. Wiener does not expect this exception will be used frequently.

“It’s just a false narrative about transgender people and about transgender women in particular that they’re somehow not really women and are just trying to scam their way into women’s bathrooms or facilities in order to do bad things,” Wiener told The Associated Press. “Overwhelmingly the people who are being victimized are trans people.”

Connecticut, in 2018, became the first state to pass a law giving transgender inmates the right to be housed in a prison that matches the gender with which they identify. Rhode Island, New York City and Massachusetts have also housed inmates based on their gender identity, according to The Associated Press.