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New PREA Rules for the NYC Jails Fail to Provide Trans Women with Meaningful Housing

BOC PREA Meeting - November 2016

Photo credit: Victoria Law

Last week, the Board of Correction, the body that
oversees the Department of Correction and ensures compliance with the minimum standards, unanimously voted in new rules to govern and prevent instances of sexual violence in the NYC jails. This rule goes beyond the federal rules for the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) and are, in general, more responsive to the needs of the NYC community. The full text can be found here.

The final rule touches on many incredibly important realities for people held in our city jails. It paves the way for additional trainings of all staff, for new rules on patfrisking and searching transgender, gender non-conforming, and intersex (TGNCI) individuals, additional cameras, and the rights of individuals who survive sexual violence. While these are great steps forward, the BOC once again made no progress to address where TGNCI individuals are housed within DOC.

This summer, SRLP reached out to our Prisoner Advisory Committee (PAC) members, who are incarcerated and formerly incarcerated TGNCI individuals, to solicit their thoughts and comments on what would eliminate sexual violence towards TGNCI people on the inside. SRLP received 14 testimonies that were presented to the Board of Corrections in July. You can read SRLP’s full submission which includes 11 of these testimonies as appendices here or view video footage of their presentation here.

In these testimonies, there was a near-universal call for a specific transgender housing unit for TGNCI women who are, either by choice or due to any other legitimate reason, not housed in a  women’s facility. While we know that there are many more TGNCI people whose voices weren’t brought to the table, we are also certain that the Board heard from more incarcerated and formerly incarcerated TGNCI people in this matter than ever before. So it is particularly upsetting that the final rule passed today makes no mention of what protections transgender women housed in men’s facilities will receive.We heard several members of the Board say that they were dissatisfied with this portion and that they were concerned about the housing security for transgender women in general, but the final rule applies no additional securities or safeguards and makes no mention of what will happen when transgender women are, inevitably, denied proper placement in a women’s facility.

It’s not clear from this rule if the Transgender Housing Unit, which currently houses transgender women held in the men’s Manhattan Detention Center, will close. The rule is ominously quiet on this subject. SRLP maintains that there is no need to close a voluntary unit that assists in providing additional security for people inappropriately housed in a men’s facility.

While the finalized rule does anticipate that DOC will place TGNCI people in accordance with their gender identity, it says that each placement of a TGNCI person will be on a “case-by-case basis” instead of beginning with an assumption that the individual’s self-determined gender identity should be the default. As the National PREA Resource Center already clarified in the spring of 2016, TGNCI people should be placed according to their gender identity as stated in the federal PREA regulations. Yet, we know that DOC has not been placing people according to these federal guidelines. The rules passed last week don’t include any information on what happens if the DOC consistently fails to place people according to their identity.

When SRLP reached out to our PAC members to submit testimony, we did so because we wanted to ensure that the final rule included the experiences and viewpoints of those who survive these conditions every single day. SRLP is going to take this rule back to our PAC members and clients and we are going to keep fighting for a rule that sees our full humanity, honors our ability to self determine our own safety, and respects the experiences and knowledge we have already shared with the Board.

As we move forward in this fight, we know that we can rely on all of you to remember our community on the inside. We urge you to assist us in reminding individuals that their lives do matter and that they are not forgotten. There are a couple of ways you can assist with this in the coming weeks:

  • On December 13th, you can join us for a card writing night to send letters to all of our PAC members and incarcerated clients during the holiday season. For more info and to RSVP, please click here.
  • Support our efforts to send each of our PAC members – individuals who give us their brilliance in leadership and thought – a 2017 calendar filled with work from other incarcerated people. Go to srlp.org/paccalendar for more information and to pre-order yours today!
  • Join us for our monthly legal mail night on December 2nd from 6:00 – 9:00 pm. Each month, we receive dozens of letters from people on the inside seeking access to resources and more info on their rights. Be trained on replying to prison correspondence and assist community member’s in their self-advocacy. Please RSVP here.
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