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Trans People Punished With Solitary Confinement in Federal Prisons

A recent Federal Bureau of Prisons report on trans people in federal prisons from 2017 to 2022 shows that incarcerated trans people are consistently two to three times more likely to be put in “restrictive housing," also known as solitary confinement, than their cisgender counterparts, the Nation reports. Solitary confinement lasting more than 15 days is classified as torture by the United Nations and various other human rights organizations. “This is indicative of a prison system that is uninterested in actually protecting or caring for trans women or trans men,” said James Lydon, founder of the prison abolitionist organization Black and Pink. “It’s outrageous that we do [solitary confinement] in this country.” In response to the report, a BOP official said the focus is now on decreasing incarcerated individuals placed in restrictive housing in their facilities, and stated that victims of assault are placed in solitary “only if determined to be necessary.” Despite this, the overall number of federal inmates in solitary confinement increased by 29 percent from late 2015 to early 2022.

Tahj Graham, a trans man, experienced the constant fear of solitary confinement during his 18 months of imprisonment in multiple women's units in Texas. He stated that he was subjected to solitary confinement as a consequence of breaking the dress code by not wearing a bra, cutting his hair short, or shaving his religious beard. Graham said he was placed in solitary confinement multiple times after reporting sexual assault, and eventually stopped reporting it. Milo Inglehart, a staff attorney at the Transgender Law Center, said that he has noticed a pattern in some of the cases of solitary confinement that he deals with. “To try and address the problem, the prison will place the trans person in restrictive housing to try and single them out, which treats the trans person as the problem rather than the violence as the problem,” Inglehart said. “It’s really a horrific way to treat a victim of violence.” The rise of trans people in federal prison occurred simultaneously with a drop in the overall prison population. Inglehart cited the recent rise of trans people coming out in all areas of society and the “increasing criminalization of women” as potential explanations for the meteoric rise in the trans inmate population.


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