US: New York prison opens specialised transgender wing

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A prison in New York City has opened a specialised wing to house transgender inmates.

Rikers Island jail – located in the centre of New York and famed for its reputation of poor conditions – opened the new 30-bed facility for trans people this week.

The dormitory-style wing, which transgender prisoners can voluntarily opt to be placed in to be kept away from the general prison population, is a self-contained unit with its own facilities and social area.

Transgender people behind bars are often subject to discrimination, violence and sexual assault – and it is hoped the new wing will help crack down on the problems.

It also helps to end the hazardous practice of placing transgender women in the male population, which is still common in US prisons.

Erik Berliner, the Deputy Commissioner for Strategic Planning and Programs at the Department of Correction, told Gay City News: “We are finding ways to keep people safe, giving them a place where they don’t have to worry about being themselves.

“This is a place that can be sensitive to them. It is the right time for it. We are reassessing everything about safety and security.”

Officers who will staff the unit have received specialised training from trans advocates at the ACLU and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project – including correct usage of pronouns, and how to sensitively deal with trans issues.

Alisha Williams of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project said: “People get excited about policy changes. This is a safer space within a really violent system.

“But we can’t get complacent. Keep talking to people who get incarcerated. Communicate with them and make sure they are safe.

“I appreciate that the Department of Correction provided an opportunity for advocates like myself to have input on draft policy and offer training.

“In an ideal world we wouldn’t have prisons.”

Berliner added: “We’re taking a big first step, and we will continue to work on it and ask for feedback from staff, inmates, and advocates.”