In 2003, Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), which sought to address and reduce sexual assaults in prison, as well as to develop resources to educate institutions on this issue and to protect those most vulnerable. Unfortunately, many prisons across the country have failed to uphold the standards set by this law for the past 14 years, and last week, the New York City Board of Corrections (BOC) – the committee that oversees and monitors the city’s jails – issued a new resolution demanding accountability for the Department of Corrections’ (DOC) failure to uphold PREA in city jails. The BOC specifically cited the DOC’s failure to create an intake tool for those on the inside to identify the ways in which they are vulnerable and to self-advocate for housing of their choice, as well as a failure to train all staff on how to use this tool and how to keep track of the results.
In early October 2017, the Department requested six additional months to create and implement safe housing for transgender, gender non-conforming, and intersex (TGNCI) individuals, claiming a need for a “new computer system” as the reason why they had failed to do so already. It should be noted, however, that the DOC has not acknowledged gender non-conforming individuals at all so far. When questioned, the Department was unable explain why this process had taken so long and was unable to answer how TGNCI individuals were currently being treated in their facilities.
The Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP), along with Legal Aid Society and several survivors from city jails, testified at BOC hearings in September and October, challenging the DOC on their failures in protecting individuals from sexual assault. You can watch some of this testimony here. SRLP also wrote a statement to the Board discussing the issues faced by transgender women surviving NYC facilities. Unfortunately, trans women are often housed incorrectly in men’s jails, to the point where we have yet to encounter a trans woman who has been housed in the correctly gendered institution, even after the city has been informed of their identity. Trans women of color are among the most disproportionately affected communities in terms of physical and sexual assault on the inside, and this fact has been ignored by the Department of Corrections.
This new resolution by the BOC, which denies the Department the additional six months requested and instead demands action by November 1, comes as an unprecedented surprise. While the resolution demands the creation of the aforementioned intake tool, it does not ensure that TGNCI individuals be placed in proper housing according to their actual gender identity, unless the individual requests otherwise. Finally, the resolution demands the creation of the aforementioned tool to monitor and enforce these policies. To read the full resolution, click here.
To read SRLP’s full analysis on this resolution by Mik Kinkead, Prisoner Justice Project Director, click here. If you wish to get involved, you can contact the Board of Corrections in the following ways, or by filing a complaint online:
NYC Board of Corrections Phone – 212-669-7900
1 Centre Street, Room 2213 Fax – 212-669-7980
New York, NY 10007 Hours – 8pm-4pm Mon-Fri