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SF Sheriff Implements Trans Inmate Policies

by Seth Hemmelgarn

Sheriff Vicki Hennessy
Sheriff Vicki Hennessy  

San Francisco Sheriff Vicki Hennessy this week announced that her agency has formally implemented its policy and procedures on transgender, gender variant and nonbinary, or TGN, inmates.

The guidelines, which have been gradually introduced in recent years and are among the first of their kind in the country, were finally implemented Tuesday, February 20. They cover everything from where inmates are housed to which pronouns deputies should use to refer to inmates to which gender staff should perform searches.

"Our number one priority is safety for all: staff, inmates, visitors, and service providers," said Hennessy in a news release. "We thoughtfully and carefully considered and vetted every policy and procedure, which impacts our TGN inmates to ensure they feel protected, respected, and have full access to the county jail's educational, vocational, recovery and life skills classes and services."

Former Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, whom Hennessy defeated in 2015, first proposed revising transgender policies a few months before he left office.

Less than 1 percent of the people in jail are TGN, but the sheriff's department noted that they face high rates of harassment, poverty, and unemployment across the country.

"The sheriff's department goal is to help all inmates live successfully once they're released from custody," stated Hennessy. "Respecting TGN individuals, making them feel safe and facilitating their participation in the county jail's rehabilitation programs will increase the chance [they] won't come back to jail. And that's an outcome we all want for all individuals in our custody."

Changes have included using TGN inmates' preferred pronouns to address them, and moving them from a 12-person cell in County Jail #4, the men's facility at 850 Bryant Street, to the re-entry housing pod next door in County Jail #2, the co-ed jail at 425 Seventh Street. There, they are able to participate in classes and services.

Additionally, people who are booked into jail are now asked to use a Statement of Preference form to self-identify their gender identity, their preference for the deputy's gender identity who does a visual body search, and their housing preferences based on their gender identity.

Housing assignments consider the TGN inmate's preferences, the availability of preferred housing where the agency can ensure privacy for showering, and individual classification concerns. Those include behavioral history, medical and mental health considerations, criminal sophistication, gang affiliation, and assaultive or violent history.

"As we adopt these policies the department remains challenged in providing appropriate housing for transwomen who wish to be housed with ciswomen due to the lack of single cells available for our varied female populations," wrote Hennessy in a February 7 memo to all department personnel. "Each request for housing will continue to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, as it is for all inmates who come into our custody. Safety that protects the rights of all individuals under our supervision is paramount."

Last year, Hennessy asked the city for funding for body scanners so that trans inmates could be searched electronically rather than rely on sheriff's deputies to examine people.

Nancy Hayden Crowley, Hennessy's spokeswoman, told the Bay Area Reporter that the department has a budget approval for two body scanners and has put out a request for proposals.
"We expect to get them in the near future," said Crowley.

The sheriff's department developed and delivered a four-hour accredited Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) course on gender awareness to over 800 staff in order to prepare for the policies' implementation, and it also now includes gender awareness training in its new employee curriculum.

Throughout the policy development, the sheriff's department worked with partners including former San Francisco Human Rights Commission Executive Director Theresa Sparks, a trans woman who also served as the late mayor Ed Lee's adviser on trans issues, and retired San Francisco police Lieutenant Stephan Thorne, a trans man; the Transgender Law Center; Just Detention International; the San Francisco Police Department; the San Francisco Deputy Sheriffs' Association; and others.

Clair Farley, senior adviser to Mayor Mark Farrell and executive director of the Office of Transgender Initiatives, stated, "The community advocates and agencies came together to address the vital needs of transgender and nonbinary community members in jail. All transgender people deserve safe housing, healthcare, and services in San Francisco and beyond."


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