A transgender woman in Philadelphia who has been spent the last 14 months incarcerated at Riverside Correctional Facility, the city's only prison for women, is now being moved to the men's prison after she complained that a correction's officer forced her to perform oral sex.
Prison officials apparently did not know that Jovanie Saldana, 23, is transgender. But, according to the Philadelphia Daily News, while examining her allegations of assault, investigators recorded Saldana's phone conversations and overheard the inmate's mother chiding Saldana into telling authorities the truth about her gender. After that, Saldana -- who has been living and dressing as a female since she was 12 years old -- was transferred to a men's prison.
Saldana's cousin, who did not want to be identified, said that Saldana called and asked her to three-way-call Saldana's mother, who lives in New Jersey. Their conversations were in Spanish, she said, adding that after 14 months in the women's prison she believes Saldana was transferred primarily because of the accusation against the guard, not because of gender.
Saldana was charged with several felonies June 11, 2010, including armed robbery. Prison officials say Saldana, who has not had sex-reassignment surgery, should have undergone a cavity search during the initial intake into the prison system and after each subsequent outing for court appearances.
Astonishingly, Lorenzo North, president of the union representing corrections officers, claimed the goof proved that the officer whom Saldana accused of sexual abuse is innocent.
Pre-operative transgender prisoners like Saldana -- those whose bodies may not match their actual gender presentation -- almost always housed with prisoners of the opposite sex and are particularly vulnerable to abuse and assault.
Transgender women are more likely to end up in prison than virtually anyone else, says Tali Woodward of the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "The oft-quoted statistic about African-American men -- that one in four has a history of incarceration -- is dwarfed by the available stats on people who are male-to-female, or MTF," Woodward says. A San Francisco Department of Public Health survey conducted in 1997 found that almost two thirds of MTF respondents had been incarcerated. More than 30% had spent some time behind bars during the preceding 12 months.
Most people agree that the high incarceration rate is due mainly to the difficulty trans people have finding and keeping work, Woodward says. Many turn to underground economies like "sex work, drug dealing, or other illegal forms of moneymaking -- and, in the process, greatly increase their risk of arrest."