In its latest assault on transgender people, the Trump administration on Friday rolled back President Barack Obama-era protections for trans inmates that were intended to mitigate their exposure to sexual assault and abuse. Donald Trump’s Bureau of Prisons rewrote the guidelines to allow wardens to “use biological sex as the initial determination for designation” when placing trans people for housing, screening, and programs and services, Buzzfeed News reports.
The latest in a string of attacks the administration has unleashed on trans people since Trump took office—including rescinding protections for trans students and implementing a ban on trans people in the military — the move defies the 2012 Prison Rape Elimination Act, which “mandates prison officials must screen all individuals at admission and upon transfer to assess their risk of experiencing abuse,” according to a release from the National Center for Transgender Equality.
“Transgender people already know the Trump-Pence administration is dedicated to stripping away our rights. Their cruelty is only made more evident as they continually go after the most vulnerable among us,” NCTE executive director Mara Keisling said in a statement.
“The extreme rates of physical and sexual violence faced by transgender people in our nation’s prisons is a stain on the entire criminal justice system. Instead of leaving the existing policy alone, the administration is clearly prepared to encourage federal prisons to violate federal law and advance its own inhumane agenda,” Keisling added.
Rescinding protections for trans people in prison was spurred by a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in which four Texas-based evangelical female prisoners alleged that being housed with trans women “creates a situation that incessantly violates the privacy of female inmates; endangers the physical and mental health of the female Plaintiffs and others, including prison staff; [and] increases the potential for rape,” according to Buzzfeed News.
The lawsuit challenged the Prison Rape Elimination Act and a guidance memo Obama issued shortly before exiting office that noted trans people in prison face “increased risk of suicide, mental health issues, and victimization.”
Those guidelines called for “serious consideration” of a person’s gender identity in terms of where they would be placed, pronoun use, health services, and more.
“Consider on a case-by-case basis whether a placement would ensure the inmate’s health and safety, and whether the placement would present management or security problems,” the Obama-era guidelines instructed prison staff.
A spokeswoman for the Bureau of Prisons argued that the new Trump administration guidelines were put in place to essentially protect all inmates, but she failed to acknowledge the increased risks of violence and abuse trans people face.
“The manual now addresses and articulates the balance of safety needs of transgender inmates as well as other inmates, including those with histories of trauma, privacy concerns, etc., on a case-by-case basis," spokeswoman Nancy Ayers told Buzzfeed.