Due to a complex cycle of discrimination, transgender people face higher rates of incarceration and greater violence within the corrections system. Basic Rights Oregon is working with agencies across the state to address this reality and improve the safety of trans Oregonians.
A cycle of discrimination and violence
Prisons and jails are a complicated and dangerous place for many transgender, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming people. Transgender people – especially transgender people of color – are incarcerated at much higher rates because of a cycle of discrimination which leads to crimes of survival.
According to a comprehensive survey from The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality, 90% of transgender people in the U.S. face job discrimination based on identity. This discrimination contributes to an unemployment rate that is double that of the general population and four times higher for Black and African American transgender people.
Transgender respondents who had lost a job due to bias also experienced dramatically high rates of homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse, HIV infection and incarceration. Additionally, 63% of transgender people have experienced major discrimination (assault, job loss, eviction, denial of medical service, family rejection) which often connects with committing crimes related to basic food and shelter.
Many transgender people are uncomfortable seeking police assistance, with numbers being significantly higher for transgender people of color. This is especially staggering because transgender people are frequent targets of violence. The Human Rights Campaign reports that one out of every 1,000 homicides in the U.S. is an anti-transgender hate crime. And while trans people make up only 2% of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs’ sample of victims of violent crimes, they make up 16% of all murder victims.
Once in the correction system, this cycle continues. Within correctional facilities, transgender women face extremely high rates of sexual assault, though many facilities and jurisdictions lack formal data collection and policies.
Breaking the cycle of discrimination and ensuring safety for trans Oregonians
Following a collaborative community listening process, the Trans Justice Working Group launched three priorities for Basic Rights Oregon’s Trans Justice program in 2009: ending health care discrimination against trans Oregonians, fully implementing the state’s non-discrimination law, and ensuring safety in prisons and jails for trans Oregonians. The first two policy areas directly address breaking the cycle of discrimination described above. To ensure the safety of trans Oregonians within the corrections system, our working group and staff are working directly with the correctional system in a variety of ways.
For the past two years, Basic Rights staff has supported efforts within the Oregon Department of Corrections (DOC) to develop comprehensive policies to ensure the safety of incarcerated trans people in classification, health care, and housing. Additionally, Basic Rights staff have trained over two hundred DOC staff members at all levels, from officers to directors, on “transgender 101” and best practices.
“It has been an extremely rewarding process to work with Basic Rights to ensure the safety and respectful treatment of transgender people in our facilities. Basic Rights has helped to bring this critical issue to our attention and staff members have provided invaluable assistance in training our staff and helping us to create model policies.” Coffee Creek Superintendent Heidi Steward.
Basic Rights is also working to provide competency training to Portland’s Independent Police Review Board staff and investigators, who accept complaints regarding police misconduct. We have established an ongoing relationship with the Independent Police Review Board and are excited to continue this work.
On other fronts, Trans Justice staff are working with the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) and the Alliance for Safer Communities (a collaborative group of LGBTQ and allied Portlanders and local law enforcement) to create a policy for the treatment of trans arrestees. Basic Rights staff is reviewing a draft policy to address safety and respectful treatment of trans arrestees, and will continue to collaborate with MCSO in the process of finalizing a policy.
Through ongoing dialogue, collaboration and education within the justice system as well as justice advocates, Basic Rights is improving the safety of trans Oregonians. If you want to learn more about the work we are doing or volunteer with the Trans Justice Program, contact Peter Dakota Molof – firstname.lastname@example.org, 503-222-6151.
Our partners at the National Center for Transgender Equality released a new resource this week on how to end imprisonment and abuse of transgender people: Standing with LGBT Prisoners: An Advocate’s Guide to Ending Abuse and Combating Imprisonment.