Note: This post originally addressed President Obama’s executive order, which was issued in May. It has been updated for accuracy.
Earlier this year, the Department of Justice released its final guidelines for implementation of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), which it has been developing since the law passed in 2003. The new rules contain specific protections for those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex (LGBTI), or who are otherwise gender non-conforming, including professional training for all correctional staff to minimize mistreatment. In addition, the new guidelines call for a screening process to make sure that individuals who identify as trans or gender non-conforming are appropriately placed in facilities where they will not be vulnerable to sexual abuse.
Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security submitted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to the Federal Register, beginning the process of extending these protections for DHS immigration detention and holding facilities:
The proposed standards will achieve the three goals of prevention, detection, and response to sexual abuse and assault in confinement facilities by requiring: prevention planning; prompt and coordinated response and intervention; training and education of staff, contractors, volunteers, and detainees; appropriate treatment for victims; procedures for investigation, discipline, and prosecution of perpetrators; data collection and review for corrective action; and audits for compliance with the standards. In addition, the standards require regular audits of each immigration detention facility and each holding facility that houses detainees overnight to assess compliance with the proposed standards.
This action initiates an open comment period in which the public may offer input on how the rules will ultimately be implemented.
It may be some time before the effects are felt, but it’s an important step forward. In particular, trans women are too often place in men’s prisons, making them thirteen times more likely to be sexually assaulted while incarcerated. This is a fate that no prisoner deserves, and protecting LGBTI inmates from discriminatory mistreatment is a step that makes the country a better place for all its citizens.