Being Trans in Texas Prisons: Texas Needs to Do Better

Recently the LGBT legal advocacy organization Lambda Legal settled a case with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (the agency that administers the penitentiaries in Texas that hopefully will have a positive effect on how Trans prisoners are treated in Texas.

Passion Star was sentenced to a term of confinement in Texas. She is a trans woman. What happened next during her confinement is horrific but all too common. Housed in a male unit yet presenting as (and being, yes, being) a woman, Ms. Star was repeatedly raped and brutalized by the men with whom she was housed.

The stats don't lie. This is the story for trans women in prisons.

The correctional guards and ultimately TDCJ's response was also typical. They ignored her request for help. She also reports that she was re-victimized by CO's who humiliated her and told her to "stop acting gay" if she did not want to be raped.

TDCJ's policy for years, and is currently, to house trans women with men. It does not seem to matter if they have had name and gender marker corrections done to change their gender marker legally to female. It does not seem to matter if they've had any kind of SRS.

Star was also denied secure housing even after the attacks started. Ultimately another prisoner slashed her face with a razor for "snitching".

Lambda Legal said in their announcement that the settlement was agreeable to all parties and also includes a monetary payment for Star and training of prison staff to better protect LGBT people in Texas prison facilities.

My ultimate thoughts on this:

1. TDCJ has agreed to count LGBT inmates much earlier to determine if housing assignments can be made to reduce violence against those prisoners. This is important. However, LGBT inmates should not be "outed" by COs. They should not necessarily be labeled LGBT and then dropped in general population. That idea to protect them may backfire and cause them to be more readily identified by prisoners that will harm them.

2. Special housing is great, and may very well be a solution to the issue. However, segregated custody is not an acceptable solution. Solitary is itself a dangerous, punitive method that an LGBT prisoner should not be subjected to to "keep them safe". Special housing units must also be given the same programming -- substance abuse counseling, mental health treatment, HIV/AIDS treatment, and job training and reentry programming must be made available to all special housing units.

3. TDCJ must stop penalizing gender non conformity. Length of hair requirements, denial of certain hygiene and cosmetic products, and denial of certain items of clothing must end.

4. TDCJ MUST HOUSE WITH GENDER IDENTIFICATION NOT "BIRTH" GENDER. Period. Trans women must go with women. Trans men should be able to choose which housing unit to go to and be allowed to go with men if they choose. (I'm only saying that because trans men may be vulnerable in a male unit. They may also feel vulnerable in female units.)

5. ULTIMATELY -- Texas needs to stop sending so many people, including queer and trans people, to prison. We can safely access alternatives to incarceration. We also need to decriminalize lots of things that queer people may do to survive, including the drug trade, shoplifiting, and sex work.

Its not safe to be trans in this world, but its much more dangerous in prison and TDCJ needs to do better. I hope this is a start.

#queer #trans #lgbt #lgbtq #prison #texas #law #lawyer #gnc#criminaljustice #criminaljusticereform

American Men in Prison: America's Real Fatherhood Crisis

American Fathers in Prison:  America’s Real Parenting Crisis


There are a lot of social commentary in this country every day about the crisis of American fatherhood.  We hear all the time about how terrible it is that so many homes in the U.S. do not have a full-time dad in them.  Blame is placed on the individual man, and the woman who bore his child, instead of looking at the societal factors that take fathers out of the home. One of these is America’s over use of incarceration to punish drug use and other minor, non violent crimes. 


In America today, there are over two million children with a father in jail or prison.  Over ninety percent of parents in prison are fathers.  The number of children with a father in prison has grown 79% since 1991. 


This is terribly adverse on children.  Children with a father incarcerated are likely to experience the criminal justice system and incarceration themselves.  These homes face economic barriers because of a parent being incarcerated and unable to support their children. 


Incarceration for delinquent child support is a feel-good solution that actually prevents men from staying employed and able to pay the delinquent child support. 


What should we do to support fathers and their children who are at risk of experiencing the criminal justice system:


1.        Make job training and education available in more neighborhoods and to more young men;

2.       Make sex education comprehensive and realistic to help more men plan fatherhood;

3.       Make drug rehabilitation and mental health services available and free;

4.       Stop using incarceration to punish low level crimes and non-violent crimes;

5.       Abolish the money bail system to allow more criminal defendants to be released on bond. 

6.       Decriminalize low level drug possession.

7.       Stop incarceration for delinquent child support.


We need to help fathers stay in the home.  Part of this is stopping the cycle of incarceration and allowing men to stay out of jail and at home with their children.


Happy Fathers’ Day!



MLK Day: A Time to Continue His Work

Considering the Martin Luther King Jr commemoration tomorrow, I thought it would be appropriate to say something about the ongoing injustices facing Black Americans in the criminal justice system.


                I am not an expert in police brutality issues.  I do not litigate use of force issues nor any civil rights violations.  I will not really touch on those issues here except to say that in my opinion overcriminalization of Americans leads to far too many unnecessary encounters that escalate because of the high tensions that arrest, search, and seizure create.  If we weren’t being policed as heavily, we wouldn’t have as many encounters end in violence.  The over policing is a political issue that cannot be solved by law enforcement itself.  It’s a political and legislative problem.


                Black Americans constitute one million of the approximately 2.3 million people in prison per the NAACP.  This is nearly half in a country in which Black people make up 8%-10% of the population. 


                One in six Black men had been in prison as of 2001.  One in one hundred Black women had been in prison in the same year.  If incarceration of Black people continues at this rate, we can expect 1 in 3 Black men born today to be in prison at same time in his life.


                Black people represent about 12% of drug users in any given month but about 32% of drug arrests. 


                There is no doubt that incarceration as a tool of “correction” affects Black Americans deeply.  It is incredibly problematic.  Incarceration rates that high cause economic disparities in the community, taking Black men out of the earning and employed pool at higher rates than white men.  People who have been to prison cannot simply reconstruct their lives to the point as if it had never happened – they face permanent barriers to employment, education, and housing.  


                There is some evidence that perceptions of Black people as inherently violent and dangerous, and criminal, lead to higher traffic stops and street “Terry” stops.  It is probably true that white people carry drugs far more often than Black people do – but if the white people aren’t being stopped as often, aren’t being frisked, aren’t being searched – then they don’t get caught and arrested as often either.  So, Black people aren’t committing more crimes necessarily but they are being policed more heavily and therefore experiencing consequences far more often.  This racks up over a life time --- the more stops, the more likelihood for enhancements under “habitual” statutes (in Texas) or “3 strikes laws” (such as those in California). 


                It is also true that chronic denial of economic opportunity and development to Black communities leads to a higher rate of criminal activity among the disenfranchised.  Expansion of education and employment opportunities in Black neighborhoods and support of Black business would go a long way to seeing crime rates in these places go down.


                We need to use opportunities like Martin Luther King Day to continue conversations about incarceration and policing.  Decriminalizing nonviolent offenses would lead to a more free, equitable society and better relations between police and the communities they serve.  But to do that, we need to put pressure where pressure is due – with the legislators who make the laws and the elected executors who determine the priorities in enforcement and punishment.