Friday, Lambda Legal and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) seeking all documents and communications connected to its decision to alter the Transgender Offender Manual, including communications with outside advocacy groups. The changes weaken protections for transgender people who are incarcerated – who are already 10 times more likely to be targeted for violence – and undercut compliance with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA).
“There is no reasonable justification for the changes the BOP made to the Transgender Offender Manual, especially as correctional facilities across the country have successfully housed transgender people consistent with their gender identity,” said Lambda Legal Staff Attorney and Criminal Justice and Police Misconduct Strategist Richard Saenz. “Local, state, and federal facilities, including jails, prisons, re-entry programs, and juvenile systems, have a constitutional obligation to protect all people in custody. Yet again, the Trump-Pence Administration is turning its back on those most vulnerable, exposing transgender people in prison to harassment, abuse, and violence, as they have done in schools, workplaces, health care systems, and the military.”
“The rollback of protections for transgender people in the federal prison system has no penological basis,” said David Dinielli, deputy legal director for the SPLC. “Instead, it appears that the BOP may have acted at the behest of the Alliance Defending Freedom, an SPLC-designated anti-LGBT hate group that has defended state-sanctioned sterilization of transgender people abroad and has recommended use of the terms ‘cross-dressing’ and ‘sexually confused’ in place of the term transgender. Through this request, we hope to uncover what the BOP considered when amending its housing policy, including whether the changes reflect merely its own biases and/or those of an outside, anti-LGBT group.”
The Transgender Offender Manual was issued in January 2017 after the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reported in 2014 that more than one in three transgender people in prison report experiencing sexual abuse by either staff or other inmates in the previous year – a rate nearly 10 times that of the general prison population. It specifically sought to facilitate implementation of the Prison Rape Elimination Act, passed by Congress in 2003, to address startling statistics showing crisis levels of sexual abuse and assault of people in prison, particularly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and gender nonconforming incarcerated people.
However, last month, the Trump administration released changes to the manual, specifically instructing that incarcerated transgender people be placed according to their “biological sex” and should be placed according to their gender identity “only in rare cases.”
Lambda Legal and the SPLC will review the documents provided by BOP and decide what legal actions, if any, need to be taken next to protect transgender people in the federal criminal justice system.