Lehigh Valley

New prison policies aim to protect transgender inmates

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - Pennsylvania prisons have new policies in place to protect transgender inmates.

Officials said the policies are meant to ensure a safer environment for all inmates and stem from the Prison Rape Elimination Act signed into law on the federal level in 2012. States have had the last couple of years to facilitate the compliance process.

Pennsylvania's Department of Corrections is spelling out state prison procedures to better protect trans gender inmates in a new 57-page policy aimed at eliminating sexual harassment and rape in prison.

"Many things in the Prison Rape Elimination Act was just formalizing best practices that have been in place for some time," said Edward Sweeny, Lehigh County director of corrections.

Sweeney said while the county is not mandated to follow the guidelines, many of the act's procedures have been county policy since 1999. He said the county sees roughly six transgender inmates a year. Sweeny said under the state mandate transgender inmates are evaluated on a case by case basis to see what medical needs they have, where they are in the gender confirmation process and what would be the safest housing.

In the past, that might have meant solitary confinement.

"We had placed a transgender female into our women's community correction center in the past and she did just fine there," Sweeny said.

Adrian Shanker, executive director of the Bradbury Sullivan LGBT Center said the best place to house transgender inmates is in accordance with their gender identity in order to ensure safety. However, he said Los Angeles and New York have created LGBT wings at some facilities.

"These new guidelines are a good step in the right direction, a important step to make sure that people in prison are treated appropriately," Shanker said. "Prisoners have the right to do their time without the risk of sexual or physical assault." 

Prison officials said no matter where you house a transgender prisoner, it costs the same. These new policies will be put in a report every year to be filed with the department of justice and posted on the state corrections website.

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