California SB 132 would house transgender inmates by gender identity

SB 132

Activists took a stand for transgender visibility at Dodger Stadium on Oct. 29, 2018 during game five of the World Series. Near the top of the sixth inning, members of TransLatin@ Coalition dropped a 20-by-15-foot Transgender Pride flag banner reading “Trans People Deserve To Live” from a left field balcony. Photo: Twitter

Update: Gov. Gavin Newsom signed SB 132 into law. It will go into effect Jan. 1, 2021.

Transgender inmates are at heightened risk of violence, including rape and sexual abuse. The standard practice is to house people according to their sex assigned at birth, but this response can exacerbate the risks for many transgender inmates.

This risk of violence often leads to transgender inmates being placed in isolation “for their own protection.”

Senate Bill 132

Senate Bill 132 would help address the problem.

The bill would allow incarcerated transgender people to be housed in facility where they feel safest, which can include housing consistent with their gender identity, absent specific security or management concerns.

SB 132 has passed the state legislature in August and sits on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk awaiting his signature. Newsom has until September 30 to sign or veto the bill.

SB 132 is authored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and sponsored by TransLatin@ Coalition, TGI Justice Project, Equality California, ACLU of California, Lambda Legal, Medina Orthwein LLP, and Transgender Law Center.

“This legislation represents a crucial measure toward reducing the violence and harassment faced by trans people incarcerated in the state of California,” said Nora Huppert, an attorney at Lambda Legal.  “Hopefully SB 132 is but the first step toward eliminating the conditions that expose trans people to violence and which are often created or ignored by the state.”

Transgender inmates victimized

Researchers at UC Irvine reported that transgender inmates are 13 times more likely to be raped than the general population.

Also, a Justice Department survey revealed that 40 percent of transgender inmates said they were sexual abused or assualted in the last year by another inmate or prison staff.

SB 132 would require several things:

  • During the initial intake process, Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation will record the inmate’s self-reported gender identity, gender pronouns, and honorifics.
  • House a transgender inmate at a correctional facility designated for men or women based on the individual’s preference, whether by the person’s gender identity, or, alternatively, by their sex assigned at birth if the incarcerated person believes such housing would be safer. The only exception is if a specific security or management concern exists at the requested facility.   
  • All staff, contractors, and volunteers of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation must use the gender pronoun and honorific that the inmate has specified in all verbal and written communications.

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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