Transgender women in San Francisco's city-county jails will be able to access programs for other female inmates and eventually will be housed with them if they wish to be, under a plan unveiled Thursday by Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi.
Trans women are currently housed in a separate unit for their own protection, but they will be fully integrated with other women by the end of the year, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Because there are few transgender male inmates, the sheriff and the organizations working with him prioritized addressing the situation of trans women.
Next month inmates and Sheriff's Department staff will begin "education and training designed to smooth the way for female transgender inmates to participate with other women in programs such as drug and alcohol abuse education and women's empowerment groups," the Chronicle reports. That is the first step toward integration, said Mirkarimi (pictured above).
"The high majority of municipal jails and prisons in this country make invisible, suppress or isolate inmates who are transgender," said a statement issued by the sheriff. "The driving reason is for their protection. However, this practice comes at a dehumanizing cost, often resulting in abuse and high recidivism rates due to in-custody and post-release neglect."
Trans women who wish to stay in the separate unit or with male inmates will be able to do so, an aide to Mirkarimi told the Los Angeles Times. Those who wish to be housed with other females will be subject to a review process, but the decision on where to place them will not be based solely on whether they have undergone gender-confirmation surgery or have 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," Mirkarimi told the Times. "There will be complicated incidences where we'll have to decide if this is the proper fit or not."
The National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Transgender Law Center, TGI Justice Project, and the Human Rights Commission worked with the Sheriff's Department on the plan.
"Our number 1 priority is to take care of our sisters who are housed in prisons and jails," Janetta Johnson, executive director of the TGI Justice Project, told the Chronicle. "This policy is a step in the right direction, but our community as a whole has to do a lot more to keep these women out of jail in the first place and to make sure that transgender women of color, in particular, can live safely and freely."
Michael Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, praised San Francisco's move. "If implemented effectively, San Francisco's program can turn out to be a model for the nation," he told the Times. "It's a positive step towards ensuring transgender people in San Francisco's jail are protected."