The state has reached an agreement to adopt policy reforms regarding gender identity in state prisons. The New Jersey Department of Corrections will house inmates based on gender identity, as opposed to the sex they were assigned at birth, according to a settlement reached on Tuesday.
According to cbsnews.com, the settlement occurs after a transgender woman filed a lawsuit in 2019 alleging that she was obliged to live in men’s prisons and was subject to verbal and sexual harassment.
The agreement states that inmates will be placed “with a presumption that the inmate will be housed in line with their gender identity.” While the department is allowed to override the presumption for reasons including management, security or safety issues, the policy states that “under no circumstances will a transgender, intersex, or nonbinary inmate’s placement in line with their gender identity be considered a management or security problem solely due to their gender identity.”
Inmates will be housed in private cells while their housing arrangements are being determined and will have the ability to appeal and provide input on their housing decisions. Additionally, the inmates will be able to provide information about their gender identity to staff at any time while incarcerated.
The policy also states that harassment or discrimination against the gender identity of an inmate “is not acceptable under any circumstances,” and that staff will be required to honor inmates’ pronouns.
Gender-affirming properties like undergarments will be provided, as will gender-affirming medical care. Transgender, intersex and nonbinary inmates will also have heightened protections for showering and searches.
Advocating for human rights
Jeanne LoCicero, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, said in a statement that the agreement is a significant step toward the consolidation of full respect for imamates human rights.
“This policy is a start and addresses the needs of some of the most vulnerable people in state prisons. Communities across the state are paying attention to this moment in NJDOC’s history, and in partnership with them, we will continue working to reduce the number of people in prisons and jail, and advocating for the human rights of those who are incarcerated,” he said.
In 2019, a transgender woman filed a civil rights lawsuit under the pseudonym Sonia Doe, citing ten counts of discrimination violations against the New Jersey Department of Corrections and its officers.
A new chapter
She alleged that while confined in four different men’s prisons over the course of 17 months, she experienced verbal and sexual harassment, including staff members explicitly telling her she was a man.
Attorney Robyn Gigl of Gluck Walrath LLP, who represented Sonia Doe with the ACLU-NJ, said that “having a policy that now explicitly recognizes the dignity of transgender, intersex, and non-binary people begins a new chapter at the DOC. While we know trans, intersex, and non-binary people still face extraordinary risk of harm, it is our hope that this policy will shepherd in a new era in New Jersey prisons of protecting and affirming transgender, intersex, and non-binary people’s lives.”