Officials from the Arizona Department of Corrections are set to meet with advocacy groups next week to discuss policies for the treatment of transgender inmates. The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office also is in the process of creating a policy for its transgender inmates. Depending on the outcome, this could require millions of dollars at the state and county levels for new construction or retrofitting of older facilities.
"Some states and counties have LGBT policies in place already," said Dianne Post, who is an attorney for the NAACP. She sent a letter to the Department of Corrections two years ago, asking for a meeting to address complaints from LGBT inmates.
"There is a real need, but it just takes time," MCSO Deputy Chief Tracy Haggard said. She runs the county jail system. She said coming up with a policy is not as easy as it may sound because transgender inmates do not fall into traditional gender categories.
"Certainly if you still have female parts and we put you in with the men, that’s not a very safe position to put that individual in," Haggard said. "If they are female transitioning into male and you still have breasts and you still have genitalia, then you will be housed as a female."
But MCSO takes the additional step of placing its transgender inmates in involuntary administrative segregation, which keeps them separated and safe from other inmates. But the practice has caused complaints from the transgender community.
“I was forced with no options to be in protective custody, locked down for 23 hours a day,” said Christopher D’Angelo, a transgender male who spent six months in MCSO custody. He likened his detention to solitary confinement.
“It just added to my isolation,” D’Angelo said.
"They're actually being punished for being the victims," Post said.
Within the Department of Corrections, Post said inmates are strip searched in groups, and if they complain, they are also placed in protective custody, which is the equivalent to maximum security.
"So they’re losing access to programs, to work assignments, to education, to socialization with other people for their own safety, and they’ve asked for it, but that’s the only way they think they’ll live," Post explained. She went on to say she’s heard from transgender inmates who have been targeted for sexual assault.
MCSO is examining the policies in place in two counties outside of Arizona.
"What we are looking at as an organization, because we do know this is an issue, is how do we maintain the safety and security of that individual, but also allowing them time outside of their cell to have time with those they identify with," Haggard said.
MCSO currently houses one inmate who identifies as transgender, but the agency says it expects the population to grow as more people in the LGBT community come forward.
A spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Corrections released the following statement, in response to questions from CBS 5 Investigates.
"The Arizona Department of Corrections is in the process of evaluating its policies on transgender inmates. There are currently about 37 inmates (out of more than 42,000 in state custody) that are known to identify as being transgender. To give that number some perspective, it’s less than one-tenth of one percent of the state’s total inmate population. The inmates span all custody levels and are housed throughout several prison complexes statewide.
It’s important to know that ADC does – and will continue to – put forth its best efforts to protect ALL vulnerable segments of the inmate population."
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