Housing Trans Inmates

An already awful system on steroids.

No sooner does our “Who Can Get Pregnant?” conversation wrap up than memeorandum sends me to a bizarre story out of New Jersey (“Transgender woman who impregnated 2 inmates removed from N.J.’s female prison“). And, frankly, the headline doesn’t do the real story justice.

A transgender inmate who impregnated two women while incarcerated at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women has been moved to a new facility, according to the Department of Corrections.

Demi Minor, 27, was transferred to Garden State Youth Correctional Facility, a prison for young adult offenders in Burlington County, last month, Dan Sperrazza, a Department of Corrections spokesman, said.

He said the DOC moved Minor to the vulnerable unit at the facility and that she is currently the only woman prisoner on the site. Sperrazza said he could not comment on the DOC’s specific housing actions in Minor’s case because of policies around privacy.

According to the corrections department, Minor is serving a 30-year sentence for manslaughter and is eligible for parole in 2037.

Neither she nor her attorney could be reached for comment Friday.

Having established that a trans man or nonbinary individual still possessed of a uterus can get pregnant, it stands to reason that a trans woman still possessed of a penis and testes can get someone pregnant. Indeed, the latter seems, for whatever reason, decidedly less controversial than the former given all the consternation over bathrooms and the like.

But why was Minor housed with inmates should could impregnate?

Why was Minor unsupervised for periods long enough for her to impregnate not one but two women?

Why is she being transferred now? Why not after the first impregnation?

Why is a 27-year-old being moved to a youth facility?

Neither she nor her attorney could be reached for comment Friday.

But a July 5 post on Minor’s website claims corrections officers forcibly removed her from Edna Mahan and beat her during the transfer to Garden State Youth Correctional facility.

The DOC said it couldn’t comment on the allegations but is investigating.

Given history, let’s stipulate that the prison guards almost certainly beat this trans woman after forcibly removing her from prison. (Although I have another question: Why does a prisoner have a website?)

Alas, I found said website and here is Minor’s exceedingly plausible account of what happened:

On June 24, 2022 I was shipped to Garden State Youth Correctional Facility (male facility), due to the fact that I had hung myself in the van, I was placed on Sui-cide watch, prior to going to this darkly lot cell, I attempt to ask Officers if I could be strip searched by a female officer which I felt comfortable doing …The Lieutenant refused and mocked me as I asked for this, he said if I did not follow his commands to allow two male officers to strip search me he was going to cut all my clothes off of me and place me in a dry cell. I cried and complied with his commands as the male officer said things to me that I perceived as wrong. I was placed in a dark cell within Detention housing, as inmates who are on watch are placed in the detention unit and not the infirmary!

Subsequently I was transferred to New Jersey State Prison, where guards continued to call me he and him….I was called he and him well over 30 times, this has not happened to me in years being referred to primarily as a man. When I arrived at Trenton state prison several guards strip searched me and placed me in the infirmary on constant watch. While on constant watch I was off camera where a guard told me “I don’t give a fuck what you do ….there is no camera here..” “everyone here is man including you”. Each time they opened my door I was handcuffed and yanked by officers using a handcuff belt. I was scared that I refused to speak, I kept shaking by the site of their billy clubs that they held in their hand.

That’s simultaneously shocking and not the least bit surprising.

The news of Minor’s transfer comes nearly three months after NJ Advance Media reported that Minor impregnated two women during “consensual sexual relationships.”

Let’s stipulate that the relationships were consensual. Or, at least, that Minor didn’t force herself on the women she impregnated.

Are prisoners in New Jersey permitted to have sex with one another? Because, given the involuntary nature of the living arrangements, “consensual” is an iffy proposition. Further, there seem to be serious equity issues involved for heterosexuals given that prisons are gender-segregated.

The revelation drew criticism of state corrections officials, who have grappled with allegations that correctional officers sexually abused and exploited prison inmates for the past decade.

Again, while I have no knowledge of the specific allegations or their veracity—convicted criminals might certainly have reason to lie about a prison guard—the long history of incarceration in America is such that I would be shocked if inmates weren’t routinely sexually abused and exploited.

It also cast a spotlight on New Jersey’s transgender prisoner policy established following a settlement agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Jersey in June 2021. The policy stipulated that the DOC house transgender prisoners according to their gender identity. The settlement agreement mandated that the policy remains in place for at least a year. The year ended last month.

Sperrazza said the DOC continues to operate under the policy agreed upon with the ACLU but added that “the department is currently reviewing the policy for housing transgender incarcerated persons with the intention of implementing minor modifications.”

He said decisions related to an incarcerated person’s housing, like Minor’s, “are made within the parameters of the settlement agreement which requires consideration of gender identity and the health and safety of the individual.”

Advocates hailed the settlement agreement as necessary reform that moved New Jersey to the forefront of trans rights along with states like California and Massachusetts that have implemented policies on how transgender prisoners should be housed and medically treated.

The majority of transgender inmates in the United States are housed in prisons according to their gender assigned at birth and are often subjected to violence and harassment, according to an NBC News investigation published in 2020.

I’m still grappling with these issues. Offhand, there don’t seem to be any good solutions.

Putting transgender folks into prisons based on their gender assigned at birth strikes me as obviously cruel and potentially quite dangerous. Then again, putting a trans woman who has not begun physically transitioning into a women’s prison likewise presents a danger. And, especially given that prisons are mostly state-run, it’s almost certainly not practical to have separate accommodations for transitioning individuals—which itself may well be cruel even if it were feasible.

Minor, frankly, does not strike me as a model case. Judging only by her website and social media accounts, she entered the prison system at 16 identifying and presenting as a male. At some point, apparently during or just before the COVID pandemic, she decided that she was trans but had been unable to get hormone treatment until recently and does not want gender reassignment surgery. She admittedly has unspecified “mental health issues,” which one can only imagine.

Apparently, she thought the hormones meant she couldn’t get anyone pregnant. And she considers one of the impregnated women her “partner” and is very stressed by the prospect that the state will force the child into foster care—a fate she herself suffered in her youth.

The whole thing is a giant mess. Our criminal justice system is a national shame under the best of circumstances and is in no way equipped to handle those who are mentally ill. And the combination of that and gender dysphoria almost certainly exceeds the limits of the system.

Presumably, Minor killed somebody. She’s under a 30-year sentence and not eligible for parole for another five years. And one can’t imagine that impregnating two fellow inmates will go down as “good behavior.”

Practically speaking, then, Minor can’t simply be released. And we can’t tailor-make a corrections system for every set of individual circumstances that might arise.

FILED UNDER: Crime, Gender Issues, Law and the Courts, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. R.Dave says:

    I think this is another situation, like sports, where biology has to trump whatever social categorization we may agree to generally. Prisoners should – indeed must – be housed based on their anatomy, not their identity. If you have a penis, you go to the men’s prison; if you have a vagina, you go to the women’s prison. If a trans prisoner is likely to be targeted for violence by other inmates, they should be placed in a protected wing with heightened security, just like any other prisoner facing such a threat.

    The real issue here is the appalling state of our prison system generally. It’s a moral disaster on every level and reform should be focused on remedying that.

    12
  2. Stormy Dragon says:

    @R.Dave:

    If a trans prisoner is likely to be targeted for violence by other inmates, they should be placed in a protected wing with heightened security, just like any other prisoner facing such a threat.

    The problem is: 1) in most prisons “protected wing” means solitary confinement, and 2) in most prisons the prisoners in solitary aren’t differentiated between the ones in there for their protection and the ones in their for punishment. 3) Most minimum security prisons don’t have protected wings at all, so you end up with trans inmates convicted of non-violent crimes getting sent the medium or maximum security prisons far beyond what would normally be appropriate to their convictions.

    So the practical result of this policy is basically that merely being trans is an additional crime that deserves additional punishment beyond whatever crime you actually committed.

    4
  3. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @R.Dave: I mostly agree but would point out that isolation for safety reasons (not of the inmates own doing, e.g. being Trans) is itself cruel.

    The even sadder tragedy is that rape and safety is also a large risk for non-trans incarcerated folks. I would also note that’s we’ll never scale down the Prison Industrial Complex until there is a viable economic replacement for it. When Wallstreet egg heads sent Jobs overseas for “efficiencies”…this is what sprouted up to feed families is the areas these prisons were built in.

    When Evangelical drones spout off about abortion and the “dignity of life”…prison conditions on their home turf is a huge Beam in their eyes that could be exploited by a Politically smart Party.

    6
  4. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Jim Brown 32:

    Even worse, the prison system has in a lot of ways become backdoor slavery in a lot of red states:

    Arizona communities would ‘collapse’ without cheap prison labor, Corrections director says

    Sen. David Gowan asked Shinn about the nature of the work the prisoners do at the Florence West prison. In Arizona, all people in state prisons are forced to work 40 hours a week with exceptions for prisoners with health care conditions and other conflicting programming schedules. Some prisoners earn just 10 cents an hour for their work.

    “These are low-level worker inmates that work in the communities around the county itself, I would imagine?” Gowan asked.

    “Yes. The department does more than just incarcerate folks,” Shinn replied. “There are services that this department provides to city, county, local jurisdictions, that simply can’t be quantified at a rate that most jurisdictions could ever afford. If you were to remove these folks from that equation, things would collapse in many of your counties, for your constituents.”

    7
  5. R.Dave says:

    @Stormy Dragon and @Jim Brown 32:

    I acknowledge that protective wings tend to just be solitary or near-solitary and absolutely agree that they’re more punitive than protective, but fixing that is one of the general reforms we need to implement, not a trans-specific issue. And while it’s true that trans people will disproportionately need such protective custody, there’s no systemic alternative that doesn’t either put those trans prisoners at risk of violence or, in the case of trans-women, put other prisoners at risk from them. The only solution is reform of the protective custody facilities and practices generally.

    2
  6. Stormy Dragon says:

    Just to throw another wrinkle into this:

    Co-ed prisons tame inmate behavior

    Officials across the country who run co-correctional prisons agree with Ms. Halford that the biggest drawback — perhaps the only drawback – in running a co-ed institution is the high risk of sexual contact among inmates.

    They are just as quick to point out the redeeming qualities, including a noticeable reduction in inmate violence, improved hygiene and self-care and a greater willingness among inmates to be responsible for their actions.

    Now again, this is obviously in a minimum security context.

    3
  7. Stormy Dragon says:

    Indeed, the latter seems, for whatever reason, decidedly less controversial than the former given all the consternation over bathrooms and the like.

    It’s more than most scaremongering about trans people is targeted toward trans women and often forgets that trans men exist entirely. e.g. the “all prisoners are segregated based on gender assigned at birth” are all thinking of putting trans women in men’s prisons, but most have never realized they’re arguing a fully transitioned trans man with phalloplasty should be kept in a women’s prison and would not be happy with that either.

    2
  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    Had California prisons been even slightly humane I would not have jumped bail, but would have taken my deserved medicine. But most prisons leave an inmate in danger both from fellow prisoners and from guards. I don’t spare much pity for murderers, rapists and pedophiles, but most people in stir are there for property crimes and the constant threat of violence prisoners are subjected to from other inmates and from guards, is a greater crime than stealing a car or pulling a smash and grab robbery.

    I’ve impressed on my trans daughter the dangers of ending up in the system. Fortunately she has a different set of demons than I had, so fingers crossed it never comes to that. I agree with upstream comments to the effect that the whole way we manage incarceration is indecent, but Americans are not rational or even interested in best outcomes – we like to punish. We like to imprison. And we like brutality. This is not a nice country.

    People with dicks will use said dicks given the opportunity. Not just criminals with dicks, but all people with dicks. We are famously unable to manage our dicks reasonably – see: the entire history of homo sapiens to this point in time. People with dicks should not be housed with people without dicks. Yes, that may mean inmates forced to choose between the terrors of being transgender in general population, vs. the descent into madness of solitary confinement. But that choice is not exclusive to trans prisoners, it is the choice faced by a great many inmates.

    8
  9. Jay L Gischer says:

    I have long heard tales about how people in prison have sex, though the stories usually focus on, umm, non-consensual sex, which seems a problem. Consensual sex doesn’t seem like that much of a problem to me.

    Pregnancy in prison is pretty clearly rare, so there’s a host of practical problems here. I don’t see where there’s some reason for further punishment.

    Nobody in the piece says it wasn’t consensual, and nobody says they think Minor is faking it. Nobody in the article, that is.

    For what its worth, the treatment protocol I’m most aware of moves pretty slowly. Even stuff like hormones aren’t given right away. The acid test, for the sake of diagnosis, is whether changing your name, your pronouns, and your appearance, dress, voice and manner, is sustainable and makes the subject happier. And by sustainable, I mean do it for perhaps a few months, maybe more? I’m not sure if there’s a hard and fast rule, but none of the medical people I’m aware of were in a hurry.

    Ok, I just found this reference for the Harry Benjamin protocol, which is the most common one, and there are multiple things like “six months” or “twelve months”.

    I mean, maybe you or I could cross dress for a few hours but then we’d be like, “ok, that’s enough”.

    This slow movement often frustrates some trans people, particularly those that want surgery. I still think it’s a good idea, since we can’t give you an MRI to confirm the diagnosis. And yeah, while none of the trans people I know are lying about it, people might try it, or just be plain mistaken.

    So I’m wondering how the NJ policy handles this kind of situation, which is where someone transitions while in prison, rather than someone who has already transitioned in intake.

    2
  10. Modulo Myself says:

    If the sex was consensual, what was the bad thing that happened here? Was it sex? Prisoners are going to have sex. If the bad thing is pregnancy, it’s called an abortion. It is not like the Americans reading this article and getting angry about how trans people are ruining things care at all about prisons or what it would be like to be incarcerated with a 30-year sentence.

  11. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Modulo Myself:
    There is no consensual sex between a slight, 20 year-old car thief and a 40 year-old hard case sharing a cell.

    3
  12. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    Edit Function!

    Meant to add that no prison relationship is without duress. Threat is 24/7/365.

    5
  13. Kathy says:

    Before justifying more draconian measures, have you asked how many inmates in women’s prisons are raped, molested, harassed, and impregnated by guards?

    4
  14. James Joyner says:

    @Kathy: While I don’t have the data, I’m willing to bet there are exponentially more guards than trans women in women’s prisons. But I don’t understand why guards in women’s prisons aren’t uniformly women. Is it just a recruitment problem?

  15. Modulo Myself says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    She tried to hang herself. She doesn’t sound like a hard case to me. More importantly, I believe there is a lot of consensual sex in prison.

    1
  16. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Modulo Myself:
    I was looking beyond the specifics of this one case.

    Current opinion is that there is nothing truly consensual in any sexual relationship that takes place between the relatively strong and relatively weak. Or in circumstances where refusing sex can be dangerous. I don’t see how we can say that a relationship between a boss and a subordinate in a Fortune 500 company is not strictly consensual, but pretend that a relationship between two prisoners in an environment of oppression and danger, is.

    Louis CK was canceled for jerking off in front of female comics who had not been threatened, but who felt undue pressure because of CK’s relative power. There is no prison in this country where inmates have the freedom that those female comics had.

    3
  17. R. Dave says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    [N]o prison relationship is without duress. Threat is 24/7/365.

    I’ve never been to prison myself, but I have relatives and acquaintances who have, and they all shared this view. Every friendship – hell, every interaction – was to some extent subject to an underlying calculation (whether conscious or instinctive) of its risks and benefits. In an environment where having the wrong friends (or rebuffing the “friendship” of the wrong guy) could get you hurt or killed, none of their prison relationships felt real or safe to them.

    3
  18. James Joyner says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Oddly, when I was doing a bit of research as to why male guards are still permitted in women’s prisons, I stumbled across a 30-year-old article that showed

    Survey results showed that, as of 1990, most prisons for women employed male officers. Of the 64 facilities included in this study, 62 employed male corrections officers, and in 56 of these, men were routinely assigned to supervise female inmates in the housing units. To ensure the privacy of female inmates, correctional officials implemented changes in the physical structure of buildings and in the facilities’ operating policies and procedures. In general, there was little resistance to, and even a preference for, male correctional officers by the inmates. In fact, female inmates seemed to be better groomed and more obedient when male officers were present. However, the inmates did object to the deployment of men in assignments that required direct physical contact or visual observation of a personal nature.

    2
  19. Rekeney says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    So, if your own daughter went to prison, you think she should go to a men’s prison?

    Ally of the year, here.

    (There, mods, that gentle enough for you to approve? He’s got such thin skin, after all.)

  20. Rekeney says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    “Trans women should go to men’s prison,” says man who insists he can’t be a bad ally because he has a trans daughter.

  21. Rekeney says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    So, if your own daughter went to prison, you think she should go to a men’s prison? Where she’d have an exponentially higher likelihood of getting raped, beaten, or murdered? All because of your unfounded assumption that trans women are somehow more likely to rape cis women than cis men are to rape/beat/murder trans women? Because of dicks that can rarely even get hard after hormones?

    Ally of the year, here: willing to condemn his own daughter to suffer in a men’s prison or go nuts in solitary, all because of her genitals.

  22. Flat Earth Luddite says:

    @R. Dave:

    MR – [N]o prison relationship is without duress. Threat is 24/7/365.
    I’ve never been to prison myself, but I have relatives and acquaintances who have, and they all shared this view.

    As people here know, I’ve been there, done that, and still have the t-shirt in my dresser. 40 years later I still wake up sweating some nights, afraid that my current life is a dream.

    I was offered the unique opportunity to be gang raped by 4 men before I got to my first cell. What stopped them? They were absolutely, without a doubt, convinced that I was going to take at least one of them over the railing in a 40′ drop to concrete. The fact that I had him half over the railing, and I was following him had a lot to do with it. The fact that I was laughing and inviting the others to grab on and hold tight had even more. Bat-shit crazy? Ab-so-fwkng-lutely!

    Friends? Trusted companions? Fwk no. Guards were venal and corrupt. They were responsible for nearly every illegal drug available inside a medium security facility built 60 years earlier to house 600, that had 1400 inmates. Torturing and abusing inmates was how they proved their manhood. Michael, you were well advised to run like a bunny.

    @James Joyner:

    James, ANY report on prison populations must be considered with exactly the same jaundiced eye you personally view statements from the GQP or His Orangeness. Any interaction with an inmate by an outsider is supervised or otherwise surveilled. Every. Single. One. And the inmates know it. It’s all power, all the time. The only reason ANY inmate cooperates with a prison official, guard, or guest is to either gain favors or avoid punishment. Full stop.

    4
  23. MikeSJ says:

    @Rekeney:

    Who says they’re taking hormones?