US Justice Department to review life-saving policies for trans inmates

prisoner behind bars

The US Department of Justice is to review Trump-era policies on housing trans inmates in federal prisons.

After the Donald Trump administration, like it sought to across housing, health and education, rolled back trans rights when it comes to the prison system, the Biden administration might just change that.

The federal Bureau of Prisons, the agency that cares for incarcerated Americans, saw its policies pulled into the spotlight when the leader of an anti-government militia, who is trans, was sentenced to 52 years for helming the 2017 bombing of a Minnesota mosque.

How trans inmates are housed in federal jail may be about to change, says Justice Department 

Emily Hari, sentenced Monday (13 September), will now see which of the 122 federal prisons she will carry out her jail time decided by the Bureau of Prisons Transgender Executive Council.

The council consists of psychologists, prison experts and correctional officials, but they are currently using a Trump-era manual when it comes to housing trans inmates – meaning that Hari may be forced to serve her prison sentence in a men’s prison.

Under the Trump administration, the Bureau can only assign trans people to the correct prison “in rare cases”, according to the Associated Press.

This was an about-turn from the Obama era, where the council was advised to “house by gender identity when appropriate”.

Justice Department officials told the news agency that they are looking into reviewing these policies, “including providing gender-affirming housing where appropriate”.

“[The Bureau of Prisons] is in the process of reviewing the current version of its policy regarding transgender inmates,” they added.

The council will now decide where Hari is housed, where factors such as her health and safety, history of disciplinary action and the security level of the prison itself are considered.

Of the 156,000 federal prisoners in the US, only 1,200 are trans – a number, while small, is a damning indictment of the higher incarceration figures for trans Americans.

According to Lambda Legal, an LGBT+ advocacy group that provides legal advice, nearly one in six trans Americans – and one in two Black trans people – have been in prison.

Inside, they face disproportionate levels of violence and abuse, both at the hands of fellow inmates and, at times, prison staffers, the group added.

In one harrowing case, a trans military veteran in New York sentenced to a month in jail found herself transferred to a men’s prison in 2019. There, she faced weeks of verbal and physical humiliation.

The experience, she said, was a “living nightmare“.