Utah House will debate bill defining where transgender inmates can be housed in jail
A bill that would restrict where incarcerated transgender people can and cannot be inside Utah prisons and jails is headed to the House for debate. Members of the House Judiciary Committee advanced it along a party line 6-2 vote.
HB316 would prohibit the Department of Corrections or a county jail from “assigning inmates of the opposite biological sex in the same housing area,” which includes any section of the facility where an incarcerated individual “is assigned to sleep, recreate, study, or interact with other inmates.”
In practice, it would bar a transgender woman from accessing the female wing of a jail or prison. A transgender man would also not be allowed inside the male section of a jail or prison.
During the committee hearing, bill sponsor Republican Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, said the measure “promotes safety, security and privacy for Utah’s inmates.”
“The Department of Corrections and county sheriffs have been placed in difficult situations when determining where an inmate can and should be housed, when an inmate requests to be housed with the opposite sex,” she said. “I am aware of one case in which the inmate had perpetrated violent crimes against members of the opposite biological sex, and later requested to be housed with inmates of the opposite sex.”
Lisonbee added the bill provides “clear statutory authority and guidance” on how to go about placing a transgender inmate and stops “bad actors” from taking advantage of “ a lack of clarity” that puts “inmates and correctional facility staff at risk.”
LGBTQ+ advocacy group Equality Utah opposes the bill. Policy director Marina Lowe told the committee there are safety concerns for incarcerated transgender people, explaining they “experience a disproportionately high rate of sexual assaults inside prisons.” The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found that transgender people are 10 times more likely to be assaulted by fellow inmates and five times more likely to be assaulted by staff compared to the general inmate population.
“Given this fact, we believe that housing assessments should never be made solely based on external anatomy,” Lowe said. “We also believe that a transgender inmate's own view of his or her safety should always be taken into serious consideration in these determinations.”
Lisonbee said there is a “pathway” in the bill for transgender people to be housed in the sex-designated section of the jail that aligns with their gender identity.
A transgender person who submits a request to be relocated would need to undergo a “security analysis” to determine a low risk of “causing harm to the inmates in the unit, the correctional facility staff, or the transgender inmate, disruption to the correctional facility management [and] overall security issues.”
“And if there is no evidence that the transgender inmate is claiming a gender identity or expression that does not correspond with their biological sex just to be placed in different housing.”