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National PREA Resource Center

More on the jail’s new non-discrimination policy

Here’s the Chron story on the new non-discrimination policy that was implemented at the Harris County Jail.

Crafted in the last 16 months with input from local and national LGBT community leaders and groups, it strictly prohibits “discrimination or harassment of any kind based on sexual orientation or gender identity,” and provides for the special handling of LGBT inmates to mitigate safety concerns. Included is a provision – required by the new federal standards – that transgender inmates be housed based, in part, on which gender they identify with rather than their physical anatomy, the sex they were assigned at birth or the one they used the last time they were incarcerated. Therefore, an inmate who is physically a man could be housed in the women’s unit or vice versa.

Geared particularly toward transgender inmates, the policy also requires all jail staff to address inmates by their “chosen name” and “proper pronoun” and says employees who violate the rules can be fired or face criminal charges or other penalties.

It also calls for all employees to go through training on the policy, including “refresher” training every two years. About 80 staffers will be certified as so-called “Gender Identification Specialists,” charged with interviewing inmates and helping decide where to house those who are LGBTI.

A “Gender Classification Committee,” according to the policy has the “final authority” in deciding how LGBTI inmates are housed.

[…]

The LGBT community and detention experts generally applaud the policy, but some say it could pose some problems in practice or that it does not go far enough to protect an inmate population the U.S. Justice Department described last year as “among those with the highest rates of sexual victimization.”

Harper Jean Tobin, director of policy at the Washington-based National Center for Transgender Equality, who worked on the policy with Garcia and his staff, said Harris County “is certainly to be commended for being out ahead in this regard.”

National PREA Resource Center Co-Director Michela Bowman, however, said there are benefits and dangers in creating a separate set of rules for LGBTI inmates based on the new standards, which also apply to other vulnerable populations.

Bowman said it could encourage rather than curb discrimination if not done carefully.

“We want to encourage efforts like this, certainly, but it’s very sensitive and you want to make sure that it’s done right,” Bowman said. “It seems to come from a well-intentioned place and it seems to be a clear effort to protect people, but there are just certain elements of it that make me scratch my head a little bit.”

See here for the background. Everyone quoted is positive about the policy overall, but some have concerns that this aspect or that might not work as planned. I suspect that has more to do with Harris County being out front with a policy that goes beyond the basic recommendations than anything else. Some parts of this will likely need to be refined once we see how they work in practice, and that’s okay. No one is screaming and pointing at a particular aspect of the policy saying “this will fail!”, we just don’t have any hard data to go by so we’re taking our best guesses as to how things play out. Down the line, as the bumps get smoothed out, Harris County can serve as a model for others to emulate. That’s a pretty darned good position to be in.