The Disproportionate Abuse Suffered by Transgender Inmates

Incarcerated members of our community must be protected!

From Kim Tova Wirtz to Sandy Brown, studying the treatment of transgender people in prisons reveals a pattern of abuse and disrespect.  

Transgender inmates experience disproportionately high rates of harassment and sexual violence from both other inmates and staff. A 2007 study by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation found that 59% of transgender women within California prisons reported sexual abuse, a rate thirteen times higher than the general prison population, with 50% of all transgender inmates reporting sexual assault whilst incarcerated. Similarly, the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 35% of transgender inmates interviewed from 2007 to 2012 experienced sexual assault within 12 months of entry to the facility, with an additional 17% of incarcerated transgender people reporting staff misconduct during the same period. In 2011, the National Gender Discrimination Survey found that 38% of respondents who self-identified as transgender reported harassment by other inmates and 37% reported harassment by correctional staff.

These statistics act as clear evidence that systemic problems within penitentiary settings are what lead to transgender inmates experiencing disproportionately high rates of harassment and sexual violence. One national standard meant to account for this disproportionate risk is the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA). Passed by Congress with the explicit intent to deter incidences of sexual violence within correctional facilities in the U.S., the PREA deliberately accounts for the exacerbated amount of sexual violence dealt to transgender inmates. Although Maryland’s Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services commits to following the PREA, recent studies show that Maryland correctional institutions continue to ignore the identities of gender-expansive inmates by placing them into high-risk housing situations, which is physically and psychologically damaging to incarcerated transgender people. This shows that Maryland’s implementation of the PREA is suboptimal and that even where Maryland does properly implement PREA standards, these national regulations are not enough to protect transgender individuals.


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