Obama Administration Implements LGBT-Inclusive Prison Sexual Assault Protections

After many years of deliberation, the Department of Justice has finally released final guidelines for implementing the Prison Rape Elimination Act. According to the White House’s executive summary, the new rules include important specific protections for those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and gender non-conforming:

The standards account in various ways for the particular vulnerabilities of inmates who are LGBTI or whose appearance or manner does not conform to traditional gender expectations. The standards require training in effective and professional communication with LGBTI and gender nonconforming inmates and require the screening process to consider whether the inmate is, or is perceived to be, LGBTI or gender nonconforming. The standards also require that post-incident reviews consider whether the incident was motivated by LGBTI identification, status, or perceived status.

This is a huge win for the health and safety of LGBT people, particularly people who are trans or gender non-conforming. In many prisons, standard practice has been to simply organize inmates by their anatomy, which often put trans inmates in very unsafe situations — in particular: trans women placed in men’s prisons. Trans women are thirteen times more likely than others to be sexually assaulted while incarcerated. In addition, those unsafe situations were often rectified by placing the inmate in isolated lock-up, also an unfair circumstance targeting their identity. Under the new rules, individuals will have to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to provide the safest placements, and they’ll also have to be offered accommodations like separate showers for situations when they might be most vulnerable to assault.

It’s important to also note that the effect of these guidelines is to require training about working with LGBT people for all employees in the corrections system, from federal prisons to halfway houses to police lock-up. There will be mandatory audits and reporting to ensure the guidelines are being followed, with the potential for federal funding cuts if they are violated.

Unfortunately, the guidelines will not currently extend to other agencies, like the Department of Homeland Security, so immigration detention facilities will not immediately be covered. Those agencies will have 120 days to work with the Attorney General to propose their own rules. While there is little reason for them not to include the same protections, there is nothing that guarantees or requires that they do.

(Thanks to Harper Jean Tobin at the National Center for Transgender Equality for helping to inform this post.)