Justice Department reviewing policies on housing transgender inmates

Justice Department reviewing policies on housing transgender inmates
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The Department of Justice (DOJ) is considering changes to how it houses transgender inmates in federal prisons after the Trump administration altered Obama-era guidelines that recommended separating individuals based on gender identity.

A DOJ spokesperson confirmed the discussions to The Hill after The Associated Press reported that an official said the Bureau of Prisons “is in the process of reviewing the current version of its policy regarding transgender inmates,” adding that the agency is committed to making sure all inmates are in a safe environment, including by ensuring “gender-affirming housing” is available “where appropriate.”

The official told the AP that many transgender inmates do not request to be put in prisons matching their gender identity, citing safety concerns. 

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The DOJ’s prison transgender council, established in 2016, looks at several factors in determining where the inmate should be assigned, the official said, including a person’s health and safety, history of disciplinary action and a specific prison’s level of security. 

According to the AP, the council is made up of two psychologists, a psychiatrist and prison designation experts. 

Under the Obama administration, the bureau’s policies included in the Transgender Offender Manual mandated that the council “recommend housing by gender identity when appropriate.”

In 2018, the DOJ under the Trump administration altered this policy to “use biological sex as the initial determination,” with officials considering an inmate’s gender identity “only in rare cases.”

When contacted by The Hill, the DOJ declined to provide further comment.

The protocols used to house transgender inmates in federal prisons has come to the forefront in recent days after Emily Claire Hari was sentenced to 53 years in prison for the 2017 bombing of Dar al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minn.

Hari late last month requested that the judge in her case legally acknowledge her gender identity

The 50-year-old has said that her gender dysphoria, as well as right-wing misinformation, influenced her actions in 2017, for which Hari was found guilty of civil rights and hate crime charges. 

Dar al-Farooq Executive Director Mohamed Omar had asked the court to hand out a life sentence, while Shannon Elkins, Hari's attorney, had requested no more than the charges’ minimum punishment of 30 years.

Updated at 11:56 a.m.