Transgender and Facing Prison: Letter to the Editor

The New York Times printed a Letter to the Editor from Dori Lewis, a Senior Supervising Attorney for the Prisoners’ Rights Project, and Kimberly Forte, Supervising Attorney for the LGBT Law and Policy Initiative, about the horrific experiences ensured by our transgender clients.


To the Editor:

Our transgender clients incarcerated in New York City and State undergo the same horrific experiences described in your editorial. Many confront degrading harassment and violence throughout their incarceration, and respond by “requesting” protection, or by trying to protect themselves. Either way, they can spend months, or years, in isolation.

The National Standards to Prevent Prison Rape’s provision barring agencies from segregating prisoners based on gender identity has been horribly misunderstood. It led New York State to refuse to create a transgender housing unit, and causes some in New York City to say the Transgender Housing Unit must be closed, since otherwise the Department of Correction will fail a standards audit.

That’s wrong: The standards prevent forcible segregation, not voluntary placement in a unit that is critical to safety. Prisoners ask to live there and are screened. Staff members volunteer for this unit and get enhanced training. Units like the Transgender Housing Unit are not a panacea, but they go far toward achieving the safety goals of the national standards.



New York


The writers are with the Legal Aid Society; Ms. Lewis is senior supervising attorney for the Prisoners’ Rights Project, and Ms. Forte is supervising attorney for the L.G.B.T. Law and Policy Initiative.