A Room to Call Their Own

Everyone knows the cautionary tale about the prisoner who “dropped the soap.”  Apparently this is a punch line in some circles, because this joke has some serious staying power.

The reality is that 4% of men have been abused while incarcerated, according to one study of California prisons.  This statistic, while horrifying, pales in comparison to the fact that 59% of transgender women housed in men’s prisons have been abused while incarcerated.[1]

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that some wardens are realizing that the people in their custody are, in fact, people.  In New York, the famous (or infamous) Rikers Island just launched a separate unit for transgender women.  The Department of Correction Commissioner Joe Ponte noted, “Because inmates are not all alike, the department is creating specialized housing for many specific inmate groups. Just as adolescents, young adults, and mentally ill inmates have specialized needs, so do men who identify as women.”[2]

Even better news, it is a voluntary unit, so an individual has the option of choosing to remain with the general population.

Of course, this is not a perfect solution; however, it is a solid step in the right direction.


I would like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that Hastings Women’s Law Journal will be hosting its 26th symposium on January 23rd, 2015.  If you are concerned about abuses within the prison system, this will be a fantastic opportunity to hear some incredible people discuss these issues and to add your voice to the conversation.

Hope to see you there!

- HWLJ Symposium Editor


[1] http://www.justdetention.org/en/factsheets/TransgenderFactSheet.pdf

[2] http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/rikers-island-launch-unit-transgender-inmates-article-1.2015264?cid=bitly&utm_content=buffer048f4&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=NYDailyNewsTw