Transgender inmates pushing policy changes

BANGOR, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Awareness for transgender individuals continues to grow in society. A person who is born a man or woman, but who in every other way see themselves as the opposite sex. For many people it can be an uncomfortable topic. For others they completely accept it. Where the topic is being discussed more is inside our county jails and state prisons. Transgender inmates change the way booking, housing, and safety protocols are done. The increased number of transgender individuals coming in are causing correctional officers to reevaluate.

Penobscot County Sheriff Glenn Ross said, "One thing we have learned is that there is no gold standard here so we are learning as we go along and trying to do the right thing."

In Maine each transgender case is handled individually. The inmate, correctional officers, and mental health experts hold a meeting to understand where the inmate is in their process if any, what gender they relate to, and what housing would best suit their situation.

Sheriff Ross said, "We have to evaluate mental health the risk of other inmates and the inmates themselves and what they are prepared for for housing."

Director of Policy Harper Jean Tobin with National Center for Transgender Equality said, "More than 200,000 people every year are sexually assaulted behind bars. Trans people are far more likely to be assaulted, thirteen times more for transgender that are women who are housed in men's prisons as they often still are today."

The National Center for Transgender Equality works to raise awareness of transgender people, including those behind bars.

Tobin said, "Historically and it still is in most facilities that is based on looking between someone's legs. For a transgender woman who has breasts who clearly is a woman...dropping her inside a men's prison is very dangerous."

Sheriff Glenn Ross said there is no easy answer.

Tobin explained it is more than just safety issues that need to be factored into a decision.

"How they are addressed, how they are spoken to, how they are dealt with in terms of search procedures. That can be very real struggles for transgender people if their identity is disregarded," said Tobin.

Down in Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce has been nationally recognized for dealing with transgender inmates.

Sheriff Joyce said, "It takes out any question on behalf of the corrections officer on how to deal with it."

Cumberland County books inmates based on the gender they identify with then they are placed in a side cell for 72 hours to decide where they should be housed.

"This is not going to go away. this is going to continue to become something that jails are going to have to deal with," said Sheriff Joyce.

Currently there is no set standard on how to handle transgender inmates. Sheriff Joyce hopes more jails and prisons will adopt a system to take away any doubt or questions.


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