As co-chairs of the Alice B Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, we thank Vicki Hennessy for strongly supporting in the statement below the importance of an inmate’s safety, not their genitalia, in determining where they are housed and the gender of the jail staff that searches them. As she pointed out, the deputy sheriffs are highly trained and qualified, and we have every confidence in their ability to implement such a policy in an effective and non-discriminatory manner.
The three goals of ensuring proper use of names and pronouns, providing safe and dignified housing, and administering gender appropriate searches are critical to the dignity of transgender and intersex inmates in all correctional facilities. We also have every confidence that if she is elected as San Francisco Sheriff, Vicki Hennessy will be the right person to quickly and effectively implement a policy that affords all inmates the safety and dignity that they deserve.
Zoe Dunning and Brian Leubitz
Co-Chairs, Alice B Toklas LGBT Democratic Club
Statement on Housing Transgender Inmates
by Vicki Hennessy
On September 10, 2015 Sheriff Mirkarimi issued a press release announcing the first part of a two–phase policy that according to the release will “ultimately facilitate housing transgender women and men in the jail based on their preferred gender identity”.
I wholly support this concept. In fact, it is part of federal law, the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), signed into law in 2003. PREA standards are comprehensive federal rules that address all aspects of a jail facility’s operations in preventing, detecting, and responding to abuse.
One of the most important changes, in going forward with this policy, is that decisions about where a transgender person, or a person with an intersex identity is housed must be made on a case-by-case basis. The individual’s view regarding their safety must also be seriously considered. There still may be transgender, gay, lesbian or bisexual individuals who choose to be housed in a segregated unit. The goal is to provide opportunity and choice for gender self-identification and house people safely and appropriately.
There are many other critical operational changes that must be put in place to ensure all the PREA standards are safely and mindfully met. One of the most challenging issues concerns searches, and who will conduct them. The best practice recommendation is that agencies permit transgender individuals to make a choice at admission to be searched by male or female officers. This is a historical change of policy, as well as working conditions, and in order to move this policy forward, the administration must work with the staff in a way that stresses communication, transparency, education and the dignity of the Trans jail population. In my experience, I have always found that it is vital to engage staff at the beginning for successful and safe policy change, as those are the individuals who will be responsible and accountable for following policies on a daily basis.
Therefore, I am concerned with Sheriff Mirkarimi’s choosing to change policy by issuing a press release especially before meeting with and discussing the policy with those who are charged with its implementation, and further in refusing to meet with those staff on this issue. This is both counterproductive and poor management. Meeting with staff should be a priority to ensure the safety of incarcerated people and to ensure that best practices are followed as well as to find ways to improve the policy. That is what leadership is about.
If elected, I will be working with all parties, including transgender advocates, union representatives and community stakeholders to design and implement a safe, humane, and effective policy with input from all, that addresses the requirements of PREA in line with San Francisco values.