Connecticut codifies protection of women and trans prisoners
News broke on May 11 that the Trump administration has canceled an Obama-era policy that protected transgender people locked up in the federal prison system. The Bureau of Prisons will now use “biological sex” to determine initial housing classifications and will only assign trans individuals to facilities that correspond with their gender identity “in rare cases.”
Just a few days later, however, a very different kind of prison policy development came into force in Connecticut. On Monday, Governor Dannel Malloy signed a bill into law that codifies existing statues and practices designed to ensure fair treatment of women and trans people incarcerated by the state’s Department of Corrections (DOC).
“When you are incarcerated, you are constantly told that you’re not human,” said Tiheba Williams-Bain, founder of Women Against Mass Incarceration and a member of the ACLU of Connecticut Smart Justice campaign, in a statement released by Malloy’s office. “This law takes valuable steps toward rejecting that false message to instead affirm the humanity and dignity of incarcerated people.”
The law, known as “An Act Concerning the Fair Treatment of Incarcerated Persons,” prohibits the shackling of pregnant prisoners during labor, mandates the DOC to provide free feminine hygiene products to people who need them, and restricts non-medical male staff from viewing or engaging with women while they are dressing or bathing, among other protections. The law also establishes a standard of treatment for trans and gender non-conforming prisoners. Both the Connecticut Senate and the House of Representatives passed the legislation unanimously earlier this month.
The protections in place for incarcerated cisgender women and transgender people vary widely across the country. According to an article published by The Cut in March, six states—Utah, Nebraska, Kansas, Indiana, Georgia, and South Carolina—have no policies restricting the shackling of women in labor. Fewer than half of U.S. states prohibit the practice by law. On May 18, the Missouri legislature approved legislation to bar shackling during the third trimester.
Meanwhile only a handful of states, at best, have established protections for trans people behind bars. According to the Katal Center for Health, Equality and Justice, the new Connecticut law makes the state one of the first states to pass a law “that protects the safety and dignity of transgender people who are incarcerated by acknowledging people’s gender identity, providing services, and housing people based on their gender identity.
The Connecticut DOC recently came under fire for its treatment of pregnant prisoners. In February, a woman gave birth in her jail cell despite an existing policy requiring that people be taken to an outside hospital when in labor. After the birth, prison officials launched an internal investigation and asked two employees from UConn Health, which is currently contracted to provide health care to the DOC, not to return to the facility.
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