Sex and gender at work, in bed, and on the street

D.C. trans activists await new Department of Corrections director

February 28, 2011 - 01:00 PM
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District trans activists urge Gray to consider them. (Photo: Associated Press)

The criminal justice system can be a dangerous place for trans people. When gender-nonconforming people face jail time, they also risk being housed in the wrong cells, sexually harassed or raped, and denied medical care based on their gender identity. Two years ago, advocates for D.C.'s trans community won a minor victory when the District passed progressive new standards for the treatment of trans people in the D.C. jail. Whether those standards are being fully enforced is an open question.

"Last year we submitted testimony before the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary documenting [Department of Corrections] Director Devon Brown’s recalcitrance in working with us to ensure appropriate implementation of the transgender classification and housing policy, which is designed to appropriately house trans inmates,” Sadie-Ryanne Vashti, an organizer with the DC Tran Coalition, said in a statement released today. “While we were successful in developing a new housing policy for trans inmates, we have strong concerns with how it is actually being implemented."

Now that Brown has vacated his post, the DCTC is watching closely as Mayor Vince Gray searched for a new director to helm the department. Full DCTC press release—with a list of transgender issues at play with the appointment—after the jump:

DCTC Urges Mayor to Make the Right Choice for DOC Director

GROUP CONCERNED WITH DOC’s Current Implementation of Trans Housing Policy

WASHINGTON, DC – On Monday, February 28th, the DC Trans Coalition (DCTC) sent a letter to Mayor Vincent Gray urging him to make the right choice for Director of the Department of Corrections (DOC). This issue is especially important to the group given their concerns about the DOC’s implementation of the “Gender Classification and Housing” program statement issued on February 20, 2009, and revised in July 2010. This new housing policy was created with the DCTC’s guidance in response to a 2008 Office of Inspector’s General’s report alerting Mayor Adrian Fenty of the DOC’s failure to appropriately house transgender, transsexual and gender non-conforming inmates, violating the DC Human Rights Act.

“Last year we submitted testimony before the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary documenting Director Devon Brown’s recalcitrance in working with us to ensure appropriate implementation of the transgender classification and housing policy, which is designed to appropriately house trans inmates,” said Sadie-Ryanne Vashti, a DCTC organizer. “While we were successful in developing a new housing policy for trans inmates, we have strong concerns with how it is actually being implemented,” said Vashti.

As the Mayor continues his search for a new DOC Director, the group requests that he consider the following recommendations when evaluating possible candidates:

* Community Accountability.
Develop new oversight procedures that hold the DOC accountable to the public due to Director Brown’s failure to publicly address the concerns raised by trans advocates about the implementation of the new housing policy.

* Honest Transparency. Provide all DOC information necessary for community advocates and Council Members to fully evaluate the policy’s implementation to date and to engage in dialogue with the DOC and the Attorney General on making any necessary improvements.

* Enhanced Data Collection. Develop new data collection efforts to conclusively track the number of trans individuals who go through DOC’s intake procedures.

* IG Investigation. Request the DC Inspector General to investigate the extent to which DOC is abiding by its transgender classification and housing policy.

* Budget Request. Request budget resources and outline plans to implement and evaluate the transgender classification and housing policy. While this may seem like an unusual request, we are now convinced that unless the Council forces the DOC to act transparently and in good faith, it will be impossible to hold DOC accountable for its actions.

“Throughout our time working with Director Brown, we experienced several unfortunate situations when he and the executive branch more generally were openly belligerent regarding our concerns,” said Vashti. “Since we have no faith whatsoever that the interim director charged with implementing the transgender classification and housing policy has the skills and abilities to do so, we are eager to see a sign from Mayor Gray that rights based on gender identity and expression will be protected and aggressively enforced within the District’s jails,” said Vashti.

The group would like to see an appointee who has demonstrated leadership and creative problem solving skills when trying to meet the needs of vulnerable jail populations. Given the tremendous history of officially sanctioned oppression of trans people within correctional facilities, it is essential that the new appointee be someone with whom they can work in a professional and responsive manner. The group is confident that significant progress can be made to advance justice for trans people in the coming years, and they look to Mayor Gray to demonstrate sound leadership by appointing a new DOC Director sensitive to the needs of trans communities living in DC.

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