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SF sheriff's trans issues probed in new report

by Seth Hemmelgarn

Sheriff Vicki Hennessy. Photo: Kelly Sullivan
Sheriff Vicki Hennessy. Photo: Kelly Sullivan  

A new report from San Francisco's civil grand jury lists several problems with the way the sheriff's department is handling transgender inmates.

However, the sheriff's office says that there are many inaccuracies in the study, entitled "The Educational Parity In Custody (EPIC) Report: Ensuring Equality of Women's Education In the SF Jail System."

Among other things, the grand jury members â€" which included Rae Raucci, a trans woman â€" say that trans women are being denied educational opportunities provided to other female inmates, and that trans inmates are referred to as "gender non-conforming."

But the sheriff's department says those statements aren't true.

The department, headed by Sheriff Vicki Hennessy, has been developing a groundbreaking policy, first proposed by former Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, that could allow at least some trans female inmates to be housed with cisgender female inmates in County Jail #2.

In May 2016, most transgender, gender variant, and intersex inmates were moved from a special housing unit located inside County Jail #4, a men's facility, to a Jail #2 unit known as A-Pod.

There are usually from three to eight TGI inmates in A-Pod, which is a separate unit within the male re-entry pod. The inmates are being housed there until structural improvements that the Prison Rape Elimination Act requires "can be made in female housing units to ensure shower privacy," Eileen Hirst, the sheriff's chief of staff, said in response to the Bay Area Reporter's emailed questions about the grand jury report. 

The report, which was issued in June, says that inmates in A-Pod are "unable to access female education programs."

However, Hirst said, "Transwomen in A-Pod are eligible to participate in, and regularly attend, programs with ciswomen."

Among several examples Hirst pointed to, she said, "Transwomen who do not have high school diplomas or GEDs are eligible to enroll in Five Keys schools and programs," which are college classes made available "through a partnership between Five Keys and City College of San Francisco."

The grand jury's report refers to A-Pod as a "Gender Non-Conforming" pod and says, "The construct of a 'Gender Non-Conforming' pod for transgender women in a male jail facility is problematic at best," since the term suggests "that anyone in such a pod is there because they don't conform to their 'actual' gender."

However, Hirst said, "The sheriff's department does not use the term 'gender non-conforming.' It is an archaic, out-moded term." Instead, the agency uses the acronym TGI, and Hirst said, "A-Pod is commonly referred to as the 're-entry pod.'"

The report also lists some recommendations and findings that the sheriff's department finds problematic.

"By August 2018, the SF Sheriff's Department should move all transgender women to appropriately female housing in the SF jail system," the report recommends.

Hirst said that Hennessy "is implementing a policy by which TGI prisoners are provided an opportunity to state their housing preference, in addition to their preferred pronoun, name, and gender identity of the deputy who may search them."

She added, "Gender identity is not binary. Thus, the assumption that all transgender women prefer to be housed with ciswomen and all transgender men prefer to be housed with cismen is incorrect." (Sheriff's officials have said that trans male inmates are infrequent.)

The grand jury stated that one of its findings was that "The sheriff's department lacks proper classification directives to classify transgender females as a part of the female population of the SF jail facilities."

The panel recommends that "By July 2018, the sheriff's department should rewrite the SF jail classification directives to classify transgender females [as] part of the female population in the SF jail facilities."

Grand jury members even said how the directives should look: "Transgender females are a part of the female population, and shall be accommodated and treated as such. Transgender males are a part of the male population, and shall be accommodated and treated as such."

But Hirst said, "Such a policy would be inconsistent with PREA, and would not give prisoners the opportunity to state their preference regarding housing."

The grand jury report also criticizes the Deputy Sheriffs' Association, saying that the deputies' union is "unduly" influencing what's happening.

Eugene Cerbone, a gay man who is the group's president, has expressed concerns about changes to the way trans inmates are housed.

In 2015, he told the B.A.R. that he doesn't consider people who have not had surgery to be transgender.

"Transgender is you have the surgery," he said at the time. "What I know of someone who's actually transgendered [sic] is they've had the complete change."

Hirst said this week that Hennessy "is committed to implementing a TGI policy consistent with PREA and is making steady progress toward that goal."

Asked in an email about the grand jury report, Cerbone said, "I am not sure how the Deputy Sheriffs' Association has unduly influenced the department in denying trans women the ability to be housed with cis women when the law already prohibits it."


Trans inmate disagrees with report

The grand jury report includes excerpts from the B.A.R.'s coverage of the sheriff's trans housing policies, which included comments from Laitya Pryor, 48, who's in jail after pleading guilty to second-degree commercial burglary.

Pryor is being held in administrative segregation in County Jail #4, the men's jail, despite several requests to move to Jail #2 with other trans inmates. She said she's being housed separately because she was falsely accused of "assaultive" behavior.

Despite her desire to move, Pryor said in an interview last week that she doesn't think trans women should be kept with ciswomen unless they've had "an actual sex change."

She cited the possibility of ciswomen being overpowered in physical altercations, among other reasons.

"I know I have more strength than a [cis]woman," said Pryor, who hadn't yet seen the grand jury's report.

She said she's faced mistreatment by a neighboring inmates and staff, among other problems.

The inmate in the cell next to hers yelled that she is a "fucking faggot ass bitch," said Pryor, who expects to be released in August. She said that a deputy who'd clearly overheard the slur told her, "That's not my business" and didn't take any actions against the other inmate.

Pryor also said that another deputy recently called her "Sir," and when she corrected him, he said "Oh, dude, fuck you."

Asked about Pryor's allegations, Hirst said, "Although Ms. Pryor did not report her complaint to us, we consider her statement to you sufficient to look into the matter. If corrective action is warranted, it will be taken."


Deputies' training

Along with the portion devoted to trans inmates, the grand jury report also includes several other statements that Hirst corrected.

"Approximately one day of a deputy's six-month initial training is spent focused on the specific skills needed for a deputy whose duty is inside the jail," the report says. "The vast majority of the time in a deputy's initial training is focused on the job responsibilities of a police person whose duty is on the street."

Hirst responded, "This statement is not accurate."

Among other things, she said, "Deputy sheriffs must pass a six-month POST (California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training) academy. They then must pass a four-week POST-certified jail operations course, called CORE, which includes training in direct supervision of prisoners, gender awareness training, and crisis intervention training."



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