Prison Cell


A new bill would allow transgender inmates in California the right to self-identify and ensure they will be granted equal opportunities regardless of separated housing. 

State Senator Scott Wiener (D - San Francisco) introduced another bill in a string of proposals aimed at bettering the lives of transgender and gender-variant individuals throughout California. Senate Bill 990, the Dignity and Opportunity Act, attempts to alleviate difficulties faced by transgender people in the state penal system. The bill, which Senator Wiener describes as a “civil rights bill” for transgender individuals in correctional facilities, would require jail and prison employees to refer to gender-variant individuals by their preferred gender pronouns and names, while providing new protections for trans individuals being housed in solitary confinement. 

Current law allows inmates to seek gender or name changes through a court order; however, facilities “are not required to address [the individuals] by their correct gender and name,” according to a press release from Senator Wiener. This legislation would allow trans individuals to attain proper identification within prisons and jails with much less difficulty while mandating that their identities be respected by corrections personnel.

Jeff Cretan, Senator Wiener’s Communications Director, says that the bill will apply to all facilities under the purview of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, including privately-owned prisons operated by state contractors. Staff at such facilities would be required by the new law to refer to people in custody by their registered gender identity and first name. 

Additionally, SB 990 offers new rights and equality for trans individuals who are placed in solitary confinement. Gender-variant people frequently face more violence and abuse within correctional facilities from both other inmates and staff. Transgender women, by and large women of color, face a particularly heightened risk, and are often placed in solitary confinement or separate housing “for their own safety,” said Senator Wiener’s office. SB 990 would provide those individuals access to the same rehabilitative, educational, recreational, and religious opportunities as other inmates within the general population.

Transgender rights organizations have voiced many concerns over the years regarding the treatment of transgender people in prisons, and have pointed to previous state actions as being the root of the problem. In 2015, current U.S. Senator and former California Attorney General Kamala Harris worked on behalf of the state to block a district court ruling in favor of providing gender reassignment options to a transgender inmate.

In its current form, SB 990 does not prevent the denial of medical treatment to transgender inmates, though Cretan explained that Senator Wiener was aware of this gap in regulation. “There’s a lot more we can do,” said Cretan, “and we’re working with advocates to do more.”

Cretan added that Senator Wiener will continue to work with LGBT rights organizations to provide further equality to LGBTQ individuals. SB 990 counts organizations like the ACLU, Equality California, and Lambda Legal as sponsors; Senator Wiener’s office says the bill is supported by both the Transgender Law Center and the TGI Justice Project, an organization dedicated to providing legal assistance and other support to transgender inmates throughout the country.

In a legal environment that has been less than favorable to transgender individuals, given the current Justice Department’s frequent moves against LGBT rights, any step forward is important for the trans community. SB 990 is set for a hearing on the legislative floor in early April.

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