Task force will examine prison conditions for trans people after death of sex worker

The death of Layleen Polanco, an Afro-Latinx trans woman and sex worker who was found dead in her prison cell in June 2019, has led to the creation of a new task force that will examine conditions for trans prisoners in New York.

The task force will look at the issues faced by trans, gender non-conforming, non-binary and/or intersex people in the New York City jail system.

It will consist of experts from the city’s government and community, and will make recommendations on issues including medical and health treatment, training in gender-affirming practices, housing and targeted programming and resources for trans people in jails, the board of corrections announced on October 1.

Manhattan councilmember Helen Rosenthal said in a statement: “I introduced legislation mandating this task force because New York City should be a leader when it comes to upholding the dignity of TGNCNBI incarcerated people.

“Nationwide and here in New York, TGNCNBI people have been over-policed and over-incarcerated. They are often misgendered, denied appropriate healthcare, placed in unsafe housing conditions, and suffer sexual abuse at disproportionate rates.

“I am proud to join with the Board of Correction, City agencies, and community advocates in this critical step toward better protecting trans people in our custody and ensuring that tragedies like the death of Layleen Polanco never happen again.”
Polanco, 27, was being held in solitary confinement at Rikers Island jail when she was found dead on June 7.

She was arrested on April 16 on a misdemeanour charge. Unable to make the $500 bail, she was imprisoned in the notorious Rikers Island jail. 

In July, officials ruled the cause of her death was complications from epilepsy. Polanco’s family are now suing the city and several officials for failing to provide proper care for her disabilities.

As well as epilepsy, Polanco was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Despite this, on May 30 she was sentenced to 20 days of solitary confinement while awaiting trial.

Polanco’s death led to protests by numerous activist groups.