APRIL 14, 2014
Last Thursday, the Connecticut Department of Children and Families set a dangerous precedent when they transferred a 16-year-old transgender girl out of their care and into an adult female prison. She is likely to be placed in an adult male facility soon. The girl had a “history of assaulting staff members at juvenile facilities,” according to an article in the Hartford Courant. This move by the DCF is a blatantly discriminatory one which goes against usual procedure. Many young people under the care of the DCF have assaulted staff members, and although it is technically legal, no youth in the care of DCF who have a history of assault have been placed in adult prisons for this reason in more than 20 years. According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS), 11% of trans women—and 41% of African American trans women—reported being incarcerated solely due to their gender identity or expression. This is a statistic we cannot discount when evaluating the DCF’s decision to break a 20-year precedent in a case that just happens to involve a trans woman.
In addition, if the state decides to ignore pleas from the 16-year-old girl and her lawyers not to place her in a men’s prison, this could endanger her life. Trans women historically have had much higher rates of assault and harassment in prison: the NTDS reports that 21% of trans women prisoners are assaulted in prison, and 19% are sexually assaulted. 40% of trans women prisoners are harassed by inmates, and 38% by prison staff. Connecticut’s policy of assigning trans prisoners to units with people of their assigned gender at birth, or their “biological sex,” as the Hartford Courant puts it, exacerbates the poor treatment they receive. Misgendering is dehumanizing and disrespectful, and also dramatically increases the chance that a trans woman will be assaulted: according to Just Detention International, 59% of transgender women in men’s prisons had been sexually abused while incarcerated.
The Department of Children and Families is supposedly acting in loco parentis for this transgender girl, who has nobody else to defend or advocate for her besides her lawyer, and they are clearly failing to act in her best interest. Want to do something about it? Public pressure could reverse the decision: please contact DCF Commissioner Joette Katz and tell her that the DCF’s decision puts its subject in danger, that the transgender girl should be taken back into custody, and that she should be placed with youth of her expressed, not assigned, gender. To contact Joette Katz, please call (860)982-9600 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. In addition, members of the New Haven community have a unique opportunity to express their disagreement in person later this week: a moderated conversation with Commissioner Katz will take place at Yale Law School this Thursday at 12:10 PM in room 127.
Supporters at Yale and beyond can also sign a petition to encourage DCF to reconsider its choice.
Sarah Giovanniello is a sophomore in Yale College. She is Events Coordinator for Broad Recognition.