Biden judicial nominee under fire over decision to house trans inmate in female prison

Biden judicial nominee Sarah Netburn

Judicial nominee Sarah Netburn has come under fire from Republicans following her recommendation that a trans inmate be housed in a female prison. 

Netburn, nominated by Democrat president Joe Biden for the federal bench in the Southern District of New York, was grilled by senators Ted Cruz and John Kennedy during a senate judiciary hearing on Wednesday (22 May) over the decision to move transgender inmate July Justine Shelby to a female prison in 2022, Fox News reported.

Shelby, a convicted sexual offender, had reportedly feared for her life in the men’s prison in Otisville, New York.

“What planet did you parachute in from?” Kennedy asked Netburn, citing the Shelby’s convictions for molesting a nine-year-old boy and raping a 17-year-old girl.

“I issued a report and recommendation to the district judge recommending that the district judge transfer the petitioner to a women’s facility,” Netburn replied.

“My recommendation was that the petitioner’s serious medical needs were being denied by keeping her in a men’s facility.”

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Shelby had reportedly written a petition in April 2020, saying she feared for her health, safety and life, and claiming to suffer from gender dysphoria. It was recommended that she be transferred to a female facility in August 2022. 

Cruz described Netburn as a “political activist”, claiming incarcerating Shelby in a female prison put other inmates at risk. Academic research shows that trans women are at a significantly higher risk of abuse and assault than the general prison population. 

“What I’m saying right now, that if you put this person in a female prison, there will be a risk of sexual assault to the women,” the Texas senator claimed.

“And you know what you did? You said you didn’t care about the women… the other women in that prison. Do they have any rights? You took a 6-foot 2-inch serial child rapist with male genitalia, [who] said: ‘I’d like to be in a women’s prison’, and your answer was, “That sounds great to me’.”

Netburn replied: “I considered the facts presented to me, and I reached a decision,” adding that every inmate has a right “to be safe in their space”. 

In the UK, debate has raged over trans inmates in women’s prisons since it was decided that Isla Bryson, who was convicted of raping two women, would be held in a male prison.

Since her conviction, Scotland has decided that trans women with a history of violence against women will be held in male facilities.

In England in February 2023, Dominic Raab, then the justice secretary, ruled that trans women who have been convicted of sexual violence, or who have “male genitalia”, will be banned from entering women’s prisons.

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