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Transgender Prisoners and How They Are Treated


According to international studies, transgender persons are a particularly defenseless population in the correctional structure, with their most necessities often being withheld. Sexual assault and rape are common among transgender inmates. Nonetheless, there is a little empirical study in the United States. This article analyses current research on transgender persons in prisons, drawing on a cisnormativity conceptual framework. It argues that coercive settings pathologize and criminalize transgender prisoners via disciplinary procedures that address and diminish their vulnerability. This idea is further shown in the article via an examination of regulations governing the treatment of transgender inmates. This essay research paper tries to go beyond techniques that react to helplessness and toward ways that avoid its repetition by analyzing how cisnormativity impacts transgender inmates.

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Prisoners who identify as transgender are often treated unfairly and subjected to abuse by fellow inmates and staff members. Transgender prisoners are sometimes placed in solitary confinement or even transferred to prisons, which is extremely dangerous based on their gender identity. This problem is not unique to the United States; prisoners who identify as transgender have reported similar problems in other countries worldwide. In this research, it is found that transgender individuals were not recognized as a distinct group in the early days of corrections. They were incarcerated based on their gender assigned at birth. It is also realized that the earliest policies on transgender prisoners began to take shape in the mid-90s. However, it was not until around the 1990s that these policies started to be applied to transgender prisoners on a general level (White et al., 2018). It is also noted that prisoners with different ‘gender identities’ are at higher risk of sexual hostility than the general prison populace.

Until 2003, the first policy specifically aimed at protecting transgender prisoners was released by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (White et al., 2018). However, the policy recognized transgender prisoners as a group with distinct needs, but it did not detail how to care for them. Society must recognize the struggles of transgender prisoners and work to create a safer and fair prison system for them. When most people think of prisoners, they do not typically think of transgender individuals. They are at higher risk of having problems with their mental health and even the possibility of being ‘corrections casualties’. However, transgender prisoners are a reality, and they often face unique challenges in the prison system. This work discusses how transgender prisoners are treated differently than other inmates and the legal issues and controversies surrounding transgender inmates. It also provides for future directions in curbing the situation facing transgender prisoners.


The study will use various sources to explore the experiences of transgender prisoners. First, the research analyzes the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS) data. This survey is a nationally representative study of transgender group in the United States. Participants answered questions about their experiences with discrimination, family life, education, employment, health care access, and incarceration. The second source of data is the National Inmate Survey (NIS) carried out by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The NIS gathers information from a random sample of federal and state prison inmates. The sample was drawn from a pool of about 204,000 inmates (Woods, 2018). Inmates were asked questions on mental health, health care access, days spent in solitary confinement, victimization by other inmates or correctional staff, family visits, reasons for incarceration/sentencing, and release plans.


The paper’s findings suggest that transgender prisoners face a range of challenges in correctional settings. These include discrimination and harassment from other prisoners and staff, a lack of understanding and respect for their gender identity, and difficulties accessing hormones and other necessary treatment. Transgender prisoners also face specific issues related to solitary confinement, strip searches, showering policies and the use of prison clothing. The findings have several implications for future research in this area. The experiences of transgender prisoners suggest that further investigation is required into institutional policies, implementation practices and the impacts on staff, prisoners and their communities.


Transgender prisoners are still denied acceptance mainly because of their gender identity and expression. According to Jenness et al. (2019), there are currently around 15,000 transgender people in prison in the United States. This number may seem small, but it accounts for about 0.5% of the total prison population (Jenness et al., 2019). Moreover, unfortunately, transgender prisoners often face abuse and mistreatment from fellow inmates and prison staff. Even though they are seen as LGBT, the Sexual Minority, the LGBT community faces this discrimination even in prison. Transgender people face extra challenges in society (Routh et al., 2017). They are not protected by any laws that stop discrimination or defend their rights. Furthermore, they are not included in the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), a centralized law created to defend all inmate from sexual assault and rape while in prison or jail (Love, 2019). Since transgender people are not explicitly mentioned in this law, they are not protected from being raped or assaulted.

Existing prions laws do not adequately protect transgender inmates. In 2016, a survey was conducted to determine if transgender inmates could protect from the law against sexual assault and rape (Sexton & Jenness, 2016). The results showed that only 39% of people who identify as transgender felt safe enough to report a sexual assault (Haney, 2018). When a person reports a sexual assault, they are often not taken seriously or blamed for the attack. Transgender people in prison also face many other challenges like placement in prisons that match their birth sex instead of their gender identity. It is perilous, as transgender people are subjected to violence and abuse in these prisons. They are also denied the necessary medical care that they need, such as hormone therapy or surgery.

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Currently, no federal law protects transgender people from discrimination or guarantees them equal treatment. It means that transgender inmates can be treated in a harmful and unfair way simply because of their gender identity. It is also possible that a transgender person may be discriminated against by the people who provide them with medical care or even by prison staff. Haney (2018) states that in some cases, courts have held that federal laws prohibiting discrimination based on sex also apply to transgender people because discrimination against a person transitioning from one gender to another, or has had some form of transition-related medical treatment, constitutes discrimination based on sex.

Some local laws protect transgender people from discrimination, for example, in San Francisco and Oakland, California. Transgender prisoners are often placed in solitary confinement or protective custody, which can be extremely isolating and psychologically damaging. They may also be refused access to necessary medical care and hormones (Rodgers et al., 2017). Officers of the opposite gender may frequently or repeatedly strip-search them. In some cases, they are forced to wear clothing that does not equal their gender personality, negatively impacting them. Moreover, transgender prisoners often face hostility from other prisoners and staff members, who subject them to physical and verbal abuse.

Transgender people should be housed in prisons where they will not face abuse, and that they should have access to treatments such as hormones to help them transition from one gender to another. In addition, all agencies that interact with transgender prisoners — including correctional officers and medical staff, should receive training on treating transgender prisoners properly. Transgender people are routinely placed in solitary confinement, denied medical care and other basic needs, and face constant aggravation and abuse from prison personnel and other inmates (Phillips et al., 2020). Transgender inmates’ reports have shown that most transgender women have been sexually assaulted while imprisoned. Many of these assaults are perpetrated by prison staff and the transgender prisoners are most expected to be sexually battered than other inmates

Sexual assault against transgender women in male prisons is so prevalent that sometimes corrections officials are forced to place transgender prisoners into solitary confinement for their protection. However, this practice is very harmful to their mental health. Solitary confinement is known to cause severe psychological trauma, including depression and psychosis (Haney, 2018). The transgender women are also often caged in men’s prisons, subject to violence by corrections staff and other inmates. Transgender inmates may be placed in lonely captivity for months or even years simply since prison officials cannot figure out where they should be housed.

Transgender inmates are also routinely denied necessary medical care, including hormone therapy and transition-related surgery. It can cause significant distress and can lead to serious health problems. In addition, many transgender inmates must wear men’s clothing and conform to male gender stereotypes while in prison (Routh et al., 2017). It can be highly distressing and make them feel like they are not being treated as humans. Transgender prisoners are often subjected to some of the worst treatment in prison. They face constant abuse and violence and are routinely denied necessary medical care.

The case of Mitchell v. Kallas is one such example of the mistreatment of transgender prisoners. In 1998, a transgender woman named Vanessa Kallas filed a lawsuit against the Illinois Department of Corrections, claiming that she was assaulted, raped, and harassed because of her transgender status (Sexton & Jenness, 2016). Kallas also contended that the prison refused to provide her with proper medical care for her gender dysphoria. The case made it to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled Kallas in 2001. This ruling established that transgender prisoners have a right to medical care and protection from violence and assault regardless of their house (Sexton & Jenness, 2016). The case of Vanessa Kallas helped to bring attention to the mistreatment of transgender prisoners. Since then, there have been some improvements in transgender inmates’ treatment, but much work still needs to be done.

Within the United States’ prison systems, there are two choices for transgender inmates. Genitalia-based placement is the most prevalent kind, followed by personality placement. However, there is a drawback to this method of placing. Placement based on genitalia puts transgender convicts, especially male-to-female transsexual inmates, at risk of torture, rape, and even murder (Bielous, 2018). Additionally, in a male facility, inmates are classified according to their fighting ability and “virility” (Rafter, 2017, p.16). It further exposes the transsexual prisoner, who is already a victim of sexual abuse and violence, to severe vulnerability.

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Under genitalia-based placement, transgender prisoners are always regarded according to their birth sex. However, correctional facilities have recently begun to house them following their gender identity. Penal systems that use genitalia-based places typically enforce strict dress codes and use practices such as strip searches. According to Jenness et al. (2019), transgender inmates in California were forced to wear red wristbands so prison officials could easily distinguish them from the other inmates, thus disclosing their birth sex throughout their stay. The state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation made this decision even though another federal court ruled against such practices in 2005 (Jenness et al., 2019). Now, the department allows transgender inmates to wear clothes that match their gender identity or choose a color based on the corresponding sex organs.

Several corrections professionals have supported gender-based placement as a fair and proper way for prison facilities to handle those who have undergone, or are planning to undergo, sexual reassignment surgery. In contrast, those opposed believe that it is more practical to consider each inmate’s safety and behavior rather than gender identity. As per the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 3% of prison inmates identify as transgender; however, this number can be much higher due to high rates of unreported cases (Sumner & Sexton, 2016). While specific state policies vary between facilities, for the most part, transgender inmates are at least initially housed per genitalia-based placement. In other words, those who have not undergone sexual reassignment surgery are put in a correctional facility corresponding to their birth sex.

Transgender prisoners face challenges on both sides of the housing debate. Those advocating for identity-based placement must prove that the state’s needs trump an inmate’s right to safety and privacy. On the other hand, transgender inmates following their genitalia may be placed in danger due to their gender identity being made public. In some cases, transgender women have been placed in men’s prisons, vulnerable to sexual assault, physical violence, and extortion. Gender identity-based placement has several other flaws, as scholars have shown that some correctional facilities use this practice to punish gay or lesbian inmates (Jenness, 2021). There are also concerns regarding the outcomes of sexual reassignment surgery and whether a person’s genitalia match their gender individuality.

There is a growing movement to change how transgender inmates are placed in prisons, with many arguing for identity-based placement. According to Sevelius and Jenness (2017), in this system, transgender inmates would be placed in a capacity based on their sex identity, not their genitalia. This type of placement would allow transgender inmates to be housed in more appropriate facilities for their uniqueness and not leave them open to abuse. This idea remains controversial among some who worry about the danger of male sexual predators identifying themselves as female to access women’s prisons (Brown & Jenness, 2020). Despite this worry, there is no need to fear any increase in violence due to a switch to identity-based placement.

Moreover, transgender inmates are generally considered “queens,” which often gives rise to more problems. The genitalia-based classification subjugates the vulnerable to the strong and equates femininity with vulnerability. Transgender women often find that they are placed in the general population with men, exposing them to greater danger (White et al., 2018). Transgender inmates are among the most vulnerable to blackmail and sexual exploitation by inmates and corrections staff, and genitalia-based classification exacerbates their situation.

It may take weeks or even months to get a gender dysphoria diagnosis and be assessed by experts, leading to unpleasant and frustrating therapy delays for trans-persons seeking care. Previously, some states and prisons restricted or denied transgender peoples access to hormones and provided access only when supported by a letter from a physician who did not treat them (Stahl, 2021). Transgender prisoners in pain need their care providers to advocate on their behalf just as they would for non-transgender inmates. Denial of medical care can lead to long-term physical and mental health consequences.

The genitalia-based classification also leads to problems such as depression and suicide ideation due to the precarious conditions faced by transgender prisoners. Prison officers must apply the main principle that most criminals have had a difficult life with families, schooling, and employment. Getting arrested or sentenced to jail can amplify thoughts of depression, abandonment, and suicide. Personnel should be mindful of not only immoral officials or prisoners mistreating LGTBI prisoners, but likewise symptoms of personal distress the convict is experiencing. Thus, staff members must observe these prisoners and communicate with each other.

Conclusion and Future Research Directions

Transgender prisoners are at risk for abuse and assault and often do not receive the medical care they need. In many cases, transgender prisoners are placed in solitary confinement or are denied necessary medical care. They may also be sexually assaulted or raped by other inmates. Sometimes, transgender inmates have been mistreated in prison by being placed into the wrong housing units. These violent and traumatizing experiences put transgender inmates at risk of death. Therefore, society must fight for the rights of transgender prisoners and ensure that they are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve. It is significant to keep in mind that transgender inmates are people and should be treated with respect as anyone else. Ensuring their safety and wellbeing is vital to creating a just and equitable society. There are many efforts underway in the US prison system to address the needs of transgender prisoners. This paper shows that these efforts are not enough, and more stringent measures and regulations are required in U.S. prisons to safeguard the rights of transgender prisoners.

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Prison systems should prioritize transgender detainees’ safety. Safeguarding transgender prisoners from violence and mistreatment by other prisoners and unethical personnel constitutes safe custody. Following the endorsement of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) by Congress in 2003, guidelines were established to advise prison employees of accommodation and secure custody (Love, 2019). Prison personnel should be familiar with PREA’s objectives. PREA guidelines cover medical treatment, housing, and the categorization of convicts who have questions about their sexual identity. Accommodation standards are centered on a single objective: guaranteeing the prisoner’s safety and wellbeing. According to PREA Standard 115.42, the prison authority should notify personnel of the first assessment results (Love, 2019). The purpose of this requirement is to isolate prisoners at high risk of harm from criminals that are more likely to abuse them. In other words, prison officials should keep transgender prisoners from potential abusers.

Several steps also can help protect transgender prisoners and ensure that they are treated fairly and respectfully. These steps include: Placing transgender prisoners in amenities that keep up a correspondence with their gender identity, ensuring that transgender prisoners have access to necessary medical care, and training prison staff on how to deal with transgender prisoners respectfully and appropriately (Sumner & Sexton, 2016). It is also significant to remember that transgender inmates are human beings. They should be treated with the same value and dignity as any other human being. Furthermore, the current laws and regulations that govern how prison officials are supposed to deal with transgender prisoners should be followed and enforced.

Prison workers in all ranks are tasked with rehabilitating and ensuring the safety of offenders who have gender difficulties. These detainees should be kept secure and clear of sexual molestation, harassment, and trauma. Historically, the conventional wisdom was to merely separate transgender convicts. Nevertheless, convicts should not be housed primarily based on their gender identity or situation, per PREA guidelines. Transgender prisoners must be protected, and prison officials must guarantee they get the necessary health and medical treatment and are completely secluded from predatory detainees. It may be achieved by personnel behaviors that demonstrate compassion for one another and regard for wellbeing.

Categorization regulations must improve to reflect that most transgender individuals may live happily without undergoing sex realignment operations or receiving gender-affirming certifications. Individuals can take steps as individuals to help protect transgender inmates. One method includes writing letters to state legislators supporting the Prison Rape Elimination Act. Individuals can also donate to organizations that work on behalf of transgender prisoners, such as the Transgender Law Center. Finally, medical or legal conditions should not be necessary to recognize a person’s self-declared gender identification.


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