NJ to house transgender inmates by gender identity after trial

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New Jersey has adopted a policy that requires state prisons to house transgender people based on their gender identity rather than their assigned sex at birth.

The policy change is part of a colony The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey announced Tuesday, and it places the state among a handful of others with similar policies.

The New Jersey ACLU and attorney Robyn Gigl of GluckWalrath LLP sued the NJ Department of Corrections and its agents in August 2019 on behalf of a trans woman who called herself Sonia Doe in court documents.

Prior to Doe’s trial, the department’s policy was to house people based on their genitals, according to Tess Borden, a New Jersey ACLU attorney in the case.

“These memories still haunt me”

Doe was held in four different men’s prisons for 18 months, according to her complaint, which said she was being held for “offenses related to her addiction” to painkillers. During this time, she alleged, correctional officers manhandled her, denied her female police station items, and failed to protect her from other inmates who harassed her. She alleged that three police officers also physically assaulted her in May 2019 after she corrected them for cheating on her.

The department, in response, charged and convicted her of assault and forced her to spend 270 days in isolation, among other penalties, according to the New Jersey ACLU.

A few weeks after Doe’s attorneys filed the complaint, the department transferred her to the Edna Mahan Women’s Correctional Center.

Chris Carden, a correctional service chief information officer, told NBC News in an email that he “sees this settlement agreement as an important step in the right direction.”

“Although the ministry has put in place existing processes, the policy described in this regulation is an update of those processes,” he wrote. “Anyone incarcerated under the care of the NJDOC can provide information regarding their gender identity to the NJDOC at any time. The ministry then takes careful measures to ensure that she is properly housed in accordance with her gender identity and housing preferences, while ensuring both her safety and the safety of the facility. Overall, the actions taken support the significant cultural changes occurring across the Department.

As part of the settlement, which the ACLU of New Jersey filed in Mercer County Superior Court on Tuesday, the department will adopt an agency-wide policy designed to protect state-detained persons who are transgender, intersex and non-binary, according to a press release.

In addition to the policy change, the ministry will pay Doe $ 125,000 in damages and pay his legal fees.

Sonia Doe.New Jersey ACLU

“When I was forced to live in men’s prisons, I was afraid I wouldn’t make it out alive,” Doe said in a statement. “These memories still haunt me. Although I still have nightmares around this time, it is a relief to know that as a result of my experience, the NJDOC made substantial policy changes so that no one should be. subjected to the horrors I have survived.

New Jersey is now one of the few states that have passed laws or implemented policies requiring inmates to be housed based on their gender identity. Borden said the state’s policy goes deeper than most because it includes provisions that will help the corrections service implement the policy.

“The section on the subject includes the word ‘dignity’ – that it is the purpose of this New Jersey Department of Corrections policy to recognize the dignity of transgender, intersex and non-binary people in its care,” a- she declared. The policy also requires officers to use the appropriate pronouns of a trans inmate, including gender neutral pronouns such as themselves, and the gender neutral honorific “Mx”. instead of “M.” or “Madam.”

“It’s a commitment, on paper, to really assert the lives of trans people and the lives of non-binary and intersex people also held by DOC,” she said.

“A New Era in New Jersey Prisons”

One of the key elements of the new policy created as part of the regulation establishes a presumption that persons detained by the state will be housed in accordance with their gender identity, and a “commitment that placement in accordance with the identity of gender will never be considered a management or a security issue solely because of the person’s gender identity, ”according to the ACLU of New Jersey.

California, Massachusetts and Connecticut also have policies in place that establish a presumption that trans inmates will be housed based on their gender identity, although Borden said there are exceptions in all of those states that allow public servants to go against this policy if they have a “security or management” concern.

New Jersey policy will also establish admission and identification procedures that include questions about gender identity and pronouns, and it will recognize self-attestations, which means someone doesn’t have to prove their gender identity through invasive research or other means.

The policy will also prohibit harassment and discrimination of staff based on a person’s real or perceived gender identity, and will ensure, among other policy changes, underwear, clothing and other personal property affirming the kind.

There is also language in the policy that states that an incarcerated person’s perspective on their health and safety will be taken into account. Borden noted that some trans men, for example, may feel safer in a women’s prison, and this part of the policy would allow that flexibility.

Finally, the regulation will require the ministry to effectively implement the policy by distributing it to all staff, asking them to sign a form acknowledging that they have read it, and arranging additional training for some staff. high level.

“Having a policy that now explicitly recognizes the dignity of transgender, intersex and non-binary people opens a new chapter for DOC,” Gigl said in a statement. “While we know that trans, intersex and non-binary people still face an extraordinary risk of harm, we hope this policy will usher in a new era in New Jersey prisons to protect and affirm the lives of transgender people,” intersex and non-binary. “

‘A step in the right direction’

Borden said Doe thinks the victory is not just for her, but for many other trans people who have been in similar situations.

A 2015 investigation by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force found that 21 percent of transgender women confined to men’s facilities reported experiencing physical abuse in prison and 20 percent reported sexual violence.

Over a third (37%) of survey respondents who took hormones prior to incarceration said they were prevented from taking their hormones while incarcerated.

The settlement and the resulting policy change are part of a larger change in the ministry since the Justice Department discovered last year that the conditions for Edna Mahan’s installation violated the constitution, says Borden.

“I hope this policy is a step in the right direction in New Jersey’s commitment to ensuring the safety of people in this prison,” she said.

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