The third largest county jail in the United States announced recently that transgender inmates will now be housed according to the gender they identify with rather than their biological sex.
The county making the switch is Harris County, Texas. Harris County, which includes Houston, is home to the third largest county jail in the country behind only Chicago’s Cook County and Los Angeles.
Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia spoke with Boston NPR program “Here & Now” yesterday about the significant change in the jail’s policy.
“The reality it is that the federal government is imposing what is called PREA, the Prison Rape Elimination Act,” Garcia said. “And to get compliant with that particular law, we started to research how we contend with this very vulnerable population…we want to make sure that our attempts to comply with the law are one that makes sense, resolves any issues and prevents us from getting ourselves in court and waste the taxpayers' money when we could've developed a comprehensive policy to contend with this population.”
Garcia said that of the 125,000 inmates in the Harris County jail system, he does not know at this time how many identify as transgender. After new policies are implemented, however, he believes he’ll have a good idea.
“The population is hard to measure prior to this policy because we didn't really have a consistent way to measure this. Now, we will,” he said. “But to that end, whenever we did have particular inmates that identified, we were really moving heaven and earth. But we realized that that didn't necessarily make sense for the inmate, and it didn't really make sense for the taxpayers. So this policy is going to allow us to contend with that population in a much more mainstream manner without using up more resources than we need.
“I think the folks here in Harris County are principally conservative with their dollars. And that's what this policy is intended to do. Make sure that we are saving the taxpayers' money.”
Aside from saving money, the program should help protect the transgender inmates of the county’s jail system. It’s been known for years that LGBT inmates are much more prone to violence and assault in prison. In California prisons, for example, 67% of LGBT inmates report being assaulted while incarcerated, compared to just 20% of non-LGBT inmates.