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Connecticut Passes Law to Protect Women, Transgender Prisoners

by Dale Chappell

In May 2018, Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy signed into law SB-13, a bill that will bring fairness and dignity to women and transgender prisoners, his office said.

The bill, which received unanimous votes in both chambers of the General Assembly, specifies that women prisoners will not be shackled during labor, and that the Department of Correction will establish child-friendly visitation policies as well as prenatal and parenting support for the nearly 80 percent of women prisoners who have minor children. Free feminine hygiene products will be provided by the DOC, and non-medical male employees will be restricted from viewing women prisoners while they dress or shower.

“All people deserve to be treated with dignity, empathy, and respect, and incarcerated women are no exception,” Governor Malloy said. “We are working every day to fix the haunting legacy of mass incarceration, and this is another step in the right direction.”

Incarcerated women are “trapped” in a system that was not designed for them, State Rep. Robyn Porter added. “Governor Malloy’s signing of this legislation not only gives these women a platform for successful reentry, but more importantly it restores them with the dignity and respect needed for successful rehabilitation.”

Further, the law establishes standards for the treatment of prisoners with a gender identity that differs from their assigned sex at birth, including provisions that give them the right to be housed in a facility that matches their gender identity, and to be searched by guards who match their self-identified gender. Transgender prisoners will also be able to purchase commissary items that are appropriate to their gender identify, and if they were receiving hormone therapy prior to their incarceration, they will be allowed to continue it. [See: PLN, Nov. 2018, p.40].

“When you are incarcerated, you are constantly told that you’re not human,” said Tiheba Williams-Bain, a member of the ACLU of Connecticut’s Smart Justice Campaign, praising the new law. “It is, in our mind, the most progressive transgender policy and law in the country,” added ACLU of Connecticut executive director David McGuire.

State Rep. Jeff Currey said “transgender prisoners are subject to unique risks,” and the new law “will help ensure those risks are mitigated.”

“Transgender individuals are among the most vulnerable people within our systems of incarceration, facing daily harassment, humiliation, degradation, and abuse,” noted Jennifer L. Levi, director of GLAD’s Transgender Rights Project. “There are many states for which transgender people are basically serving double sentences,” she continued. “One for the underlying crime for which they’ve been convicted of and the other just for being transgender.”

The strong bipartisan legislative support for the bill, which went into effect on July 1, 2018, was an indication that the rights of women and transgender prisoners is not a partisan issue. Now such support needs to be extended to all prisoners. 

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Sources: www.wshu.org, www.courant.com, www.womensmediacenter.com