San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi has a new plan.
Under a new policy announced yesterday Sheriff Mirkarimi intends to house all inmates in San Francisco County's jails by their gender identity.
He hopes to have transgender inmates living with their preferred population before 2016.
But transgender inmates who choose to remain in segregated housing or to continue living with other inmates who share the their birth sex can do so, according to Kenya Briggs, a spokeswoman for the sheriff's office.
I carry the perspective forward that the transgender population is marginalized on the streets of America. Consider how magnified that treatment is inside prisons and jails.
Currently six of the county's 1257 inmates are classified as transgender. The existent policy has housed them in an isolated wing of the downtown jail.
Inmates who seek to have their housing status changed will be subject to a review process, but Mirkarimi said housing decisions will not be solely based on an inmate having gender reassignment surgery or a diagnosis of gender dysphoria.
It’s not going to be based on genitalia alone. We will have an advisory committee, experts that help represent the transgender population. There will be complicated incidences where we’ll have to decide if this is the proper fit or not.
The policy of the California Department of Corrections is to house inmates who have not had reassignment surgery according to birth sex.
California did become the first state in the nation to agree to pay for a transgender inmate's reassignment surgery, a decision announced last month. But the inmate, a transgender woman, will not be placed in a women's prison until the operation is complete.
California prisons currently house 385 transgender inmates who are receiving hormone treatment (363 trans women and 22 trans men).
If implemented effectively, San Francisco's program can turn out to be a model for the nation. It’s a positive step towards ensuring transgender people in San Francisco's jail are protected.
In many prisons and jails around the country, protection today currently consists of isolation. That’s not protection. That’s additional punishment. It can’t be the case that transgender prisoners are isolated from other human beings for the vast amount of time they spend in jail under the guise of protecting them.
--Michael Silverman, Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund
San Francisco's policy will be rolled out in two phases, Mirkarimi said. First, transgender inmates will be granted access to the jail system's charter high school, substance abuse programs and women's empowerment classes in the next several weeks. The housing moves will come next.