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Report on treatment of trans, gender-nonconforming prisoners announced

Published Feb 7, 2008 9:46 PM

The Sylvia Rivera Law Project held a release party for “‘It’s War in Here’: A Report on the Treatment of Transgender and Intersex People in New York State Men’s Prisons” on Jan. 31 at the Solidarity Center in New York City. The report describes in-depth the conditions that trans and gender-nonconforming folks are subjected to when incarcerated.

The event started with music while attendees danced, ate, picked up literature and sat at tables making handcrafted valentines for transgender and gender-nonconforming prisoners.

Speakers from SRLP took to the podium to talk about the development of the report and the history of the organization. “When we started SRLP, we began with a needs assessment for the trans community in New York. ... This assessment showed needs across the board,” stated Naomi of the Feminist Collective and SRLP. “Prisoners were very left out. ... There are not many organizations that cater to the needs of LGBT prisoners, especially trans and gender-nonconforming prisoners.”

In introducing the report Gabriel Arkles, a staff attorney for SRLP, spoke on the conditions that lead trans and gender-nonconforming folks to prisons at a disproportionate rate, including disproportionate homelessness, poverty and police observation. Every person interviewed for this report had faced abuse at the hands of the prison industrial complex, including rape, sexual assault, beatings, frisks and searches, forced conformity to gender norms and denial of health care.

Trans survivors of incarceration shared their stories, bringing the reality of what trans and gender-nonconforming prisoners go through on a daily basis.

One trans woman described her experience in prison as “three years of hell.” As she reflected on her incarceration and the abuse that was a part of that experience she stated, “I made a mistake and I had to pay for it, but sometimes I wonder how high a price.” She went on to explain the abuses she suffered at the hands of the prison guards, which included confiscation of all “feminine” items and verbal and physical assault.

She emphasized that she is “glad to be out of prison and have gotten out with my life, but there are many trans and gender-nonconforming folks that are still incarcerated and don’t have anyone to advocate for them.”

Another trans woman, who volunteers at SRLP, spoke on her ability to defend herself during her incarceration but acknowledged that there are many who can’t.

Initiatives that took formation during the development of the report were publicized at the event. Arkles announced the formation of the SRLP Prisoner Advisory Committee, a group of incarcerated trans and gender-nonconforming folks that aid SLRP in their work and research. Kate Rude discussed the pen pal project that SRLP has for prisoners and described it as “some of the most important work we can do ... by denying forced invisibility.”

SRLP has made strides in the improvement of conditions for trans and gender-nonconforming prisoners. This report and the developments that have come from the process will aid SRLP in changing the conditions for trans and gender-nonconforming folks both in prisons and in the community.

For more information about the report and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, visit srlp.org.