Bill looks to improve housing assignments for transgender, gender

Several months after a task force released a report that found the New York City jail system often fails to protect, identify and care for transgender, gender non-conforming, nonbinary, and or intersex people in custody, city lawmakers have introduced legislation aimed at bettering how housing assignments are made.

The bill, which is sponsored by New York City Council Member Keith Powers, would require the Department of Correction to review the sexual victimization risk of every person who is incarcerated during the intake or transfer proccess, including whether they have a disability, their age and physical build, whether they’ve previously been a victim of sexual assault, if they’ve been previously incarcerated or have prior convictions for sex offenses, and their gender identity and sexual orientation. The legislation would also create a clear process for TGNCNBI people to appeal their housing assignments to an outside review board. The Board of Correction, having been wrapped into the review process under the bill, would need to provide an opinion to reviewers within 24 hours of the appeal, according to Powers.

The legislation comes on the heels of a landmark report from a task force assembled by the BOC in 2019 that found the New York City jail system has continually failed to protect TGNCNBI people, having long routed them through housing mis-aligned with their gender identity. According to the report’s authors – leaders of LGBTQ advocacy and defense organizations – the lack of clarity on how TGNCNBI people should be brought into the Department of Correction “in the most affirming manner possible” has led to “an ongoing crisis for any TGNCNBI person arrested and charged.”

Parts of the report underscore the heightened dangers that transgender women and feminine non-binary individuals face when they are housed in men’s facilities – something authors say routinely occurs. One transgender woman, identified as LAS Individual #6, reportedly spent over two years in these conditions where she was subject to physical assaults, verbal and physical harassment, and rape despite her requests for the DOC to transfer her into gender-aligned housing. The dangers that transgender people face in jail are well documented in national studies.  The report also details incidents in which incarcerated transgender individuals were allegedly threatened by guards that they’d be switched into housing not aligned with their gender if they didn’t follow the rules.

Powers, the former chair of the Criminal Justice Committee, said the legislation was born from the concerns advocates have raised about the housing assignment process. After sponsoring another iteration of the bill that didn’t pass last session, he felt compelled to bring it back in light of the report’s findings and the ongoing issues wracking Rikers Island. Powers said he’s hopeful the legislation will get a hearing early next year. Advocates, impacted individuals and the DOC would be able to share personal experiences and weigh in on how to strengthen the bill then. He also acknowledged that its passage would only mark a step in reforming the embattled system.

“We are…

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