In the summer of 2013, Chelsea Manning’s high-profile incarceration and subsequent pardon brought the existence of trans women in prison into the mainstream discourse. Activists like Janet Mock and CeCe McDonald have courageously spoken out about their experiences while incarcerated. But while their high-profile cases have resulted in greater awareness about the criminalization of trans people — particularly trans women of color — and the abuses the mass incarceration system heaps upon them, there is very little discussion of actual policies. Advocacy groups and departments of corrections alike are operating with almost no information in this area, leaving incarcerated trans people without resources and at the mercy of widespread ignorance.
To begin to bridge this research gap, the Prison Policy Initiative has conducted a review of the current transgender/gender non-conforming policies of 21 states.
Most states’ policies are sparse, and convey a clear discomfort with and ignorance about the trans community. We have, however, identified one state’s policy as representing current best practices in the field: the Delaware Department of Corrections policy. This two–part policy, revised in 2016 in response to an ACLU lawsuit, sets an informed and comprehensive standard.
In this post we review the scope of the gaps and inadequacies in states’ transgender incarceration policies, hold up suggestions from Delaware and other leaders in the field as partial solutions, and make recommendations for further research that is desperately needed in this area.