Updated: Dec 8, 2022
Prison is not an ideal place for anyone, let alone a transgender or gender variant person. While policies are better than they once were, they are nowhere near perfect.. At the time of this writing, there are inmates in California and Washington, and likely other states, who are housed in a facility consistent with their gender identity. There is even a provision in Florida policy now that permits the same, though I'm not aware of it being implemented yet. Many states are improving in compliance with PREA, resulting in access to private showers or private shower time, more respectful pat-down and strip-search procedures, and individual, informed housing decisions. But, again, these policies are either imperfect or imperfectly implemented everywhere.
A 2019 report by the Prison Policy Initiative said that Delaware had the best policies for trans persons, including conformance with PREA standards, gender affirming health care, and staff training. The report made no mention of any further gender-affirming accommodations such as female clothing or grooming standards, though. While the WPATH standards remain the most respected guidelines for the treatment of gender dysphoria, the 2019 report indicates that, of the 21 states surveyed, only Delaware even cited the WPATH guidelines and instructed medical staff to use them for guidance. So, while there are states that have shown a lot of improvement, there are no perfect state or federal policies, and it should come as no surprise that Florida is no exception.
To understand current Florida trans policy, I feel it is helpful to understand how it's evolved over the last several years. Like the 2-part Delaware DOC policy, revised in 2016, the changes in Florida policy were the result of an ACLU lawsuit. For those who don't believe one person can make a difference, I'd like to introduce Reiyn Keohane.
Reiyn was arrested at age 19, about six weeks after beginning hormone therapy, and taken to Lee County Jail. There, she was denied access to her hormone therapy. Eventually, she accepted a 15 year plea deal and was sent to prison, where she promptly requested permission to resume her therapy. She shortly added the request to be able to socially transition as well (social transitioning is a WPATH approved treatment component that includes living in the desired gender role full or part time, including clothing, grooming, and cosmetics standards consistent with the person's gender identity). Both requests were denied. Regarding her hormone therapy, she was told that she hadn't received hormone therapy since July of 2013 and would not receive hormone therapy while incarcerated in the custody of Florida DOC. Florida, like many other states, had a "freeze-frame" policy stating that "Inmates who have undergone therapy for gender dysphoria will be maintained only at the level of change that existed at the time they were received by the department." There were additional requests and grievances, as well as multiple suicide attempts and an attempt at self-castration. By any measure, Reiyn was clearly in a state of psychological distress. There was a clear medical need, and it was being treated indifferently. In February of 2016, Reiyn filed a lawsuit with the ACLU. In September, Florida DOC granted the hormone therapy request, and, in October, they rescinded the freeze-frame policy, but I'm sure neither action had anything to do with the lawsuit.
In July of 2017, FDOC issued Procedure 403.012, "Identification and Management of Transgender Inmates and Inmates Diagnosed With Gender Dysphoria." For the first time, Florida DOC had a policy specifically addressing the treatment of transgender and gender variant inmates, including eight relevant definitions (things like Gender Dysphoria, Sexual Reassignment Surgery (SRS), Transgender and Hormonal Therapy were defined.) Policy addressed housing assignments and even included a provision stating that those who had completed SRS prior to incarceration would, in most cases, be at a site consistent with their reassigned gender. Also, for the first time, were referenced "Department-approved gender dysphoria sites", which are sites that would house those requiring treatment for gender dysphoria, including hormone therapy. A new, multidisciplinary "Gender Dysphoria Review Team" (GDRT) was created to assess those, who were able to receive a provisional Gender Dysphoria diagnosis at their institution, at a designated site, which, at the time, was Zephyrhills C.I. for those at men's facilities and Florida Women's Reception Center (FWRC) for those at women's facilities. In this policy, treatment approved could include hormone therapy, psychological therapy, and additional, but undefined, "other treatment and accomodations." New and existing hormone therapy was covered, as was therapy requested to be discontinued by the inmate who later wishes to resume it again. Additional accommodations included how to handle name changes and permission to use preferred titles, such as Ms., Miss, Mrs., or Mr. in correspondence, and gender neutral address from staff for those inmates who request it.
Still, the new policy stated that social transition would not be permitted, and Reiyn, with her ACLU legal team, continued to pursue the lawsuit. In August of 2018, Reiyn Keohane vs. Julie Jones (Julie Jones was the former Secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections) was decided in Reiyn's favor by Judge Mark Walker in a decision that was about 20 pages long (at least my copy was) and which just makes you want to stand up and clap. Florida DOC was permanently enjoined from reenacting the freeze-frame policy, was required to provide Reiyn's hormone therapy, and was required to permit Reiyn to socially transition, including female clothing and grooming, cosmetics, and female undergarments. On this last order, the Dept. continued to deny social transitioning all the way through to the appeal filed by FDOC. Before that was decided, though, FDOC updated their policy once more.
On November 13, 2019, DOC updated and renamed procedure 403.012. It is now called "Identification and Management of Inmates Diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria." This, the current policy, has been changed in some pretty substantial ways. There are now TEN definitions (including the addition of Intersex and Transitioning). The GDRT is more clearly defined now, including their role and responsibility in determining and implementing an appropriate course of treatment. Zephyrhills C.I. is no longer the designated screening site (it may change again in the future, but at this time, Wakulla C.I. is one such site), and the policy no longer references a specific site (presumably so they won't have to update policy when these things change, as they may in the future). The assessment process has been simplified, but it's still notoriously difficult to get the provisional diagnosis required in order to be transferred and evaluated by the GDRT. I've known five people at my current institution, Marion C.I., who have sought but been denied a provisional diagnosis. One of us, a girl named Khloe, did eventually receive the diagnosis and was transferred to Wakulla for assessment, but they had a 2011 Gender Identity Disorder (Gender Dysphoria was formerly known as Gender Identity Disorder in the DSM) which they received while in the custody of FL DOC. I feel like they didn't so much receive a new diagnosis, but that the Dept. recognized a former diagnosis.
The biggest changes, though, are regarding accommodations for those who do get the formal diagnosis from the GDRT. The GDRT issues, after their assessment, an "Accomodations Pass" (DC4-643G), which may include the following:
Providing alternate canteen and quarterly order menus in addition to the regular ones.
Allowing people to wear cosmetics inside the housing area (but requiring that they be removed outside of it).
Female hair grooming standards (no mention of male grooming standards for trans men).
Opposite gender inmate uniform and undergarments, inside and outside of the housing unit.
Additional accommodations may be requested but are pending review from the GDRT.
What confuses me is that this policy is effective July of 2019, but the appeal text for Reiyn Keohane vs. Julie Jones indicates that the above social transitioning accomodations were still denied in 2020. It seems clear to me that the policy change, like the initial policy creation, and the rescinding of the freeze-frame policy, are intended to moot the arguments of the lawsuit and to prevent further injunctive legal action. I have no way of knowing whether these policies are currently followed or whether these accommodations are currently available to those housed at the Department-approved Gender Dysphoria sites, because I haven't read any first-hand accounts from those currently housed at one (though I'd like to).
This is a big deal, though, and can have a major impact, but I caution all the girls out there to consider that the grass is not always greener on the other side. I've heard, for example, that Khloe, the one person I know of who got her diagnosis and transfer, is miserable at Wakulla due to increased incidences of drug usage, gang activity, and harassment. I'm not in touch with her, though, and cannot confirm whether she truly feels this way or not.
In addition to procedure 403.012, it would benefit everyone to review Procedure 602.018, "Contraband and Searches of Inmates", and 602.053, "Prison Rape; Prevention, Detection, and Response". Both of these policies include provisions that affect LGBTQ and trans inmates. They state, cumulatively, that staff will not search a potential GD inmate, trans inmate, or intersex inmate for the sole purpose of determining an inmates genital status. Clothed searches of trans or intersex inmates will only be performed by male staff during an emergency situtation, as determined by the shift supervisor, or if the arrival of female staff would interrupt the normal daily operations of the prison. Unclothed searches of trans/intersex inmates will be conducted in an area that si out of the view of unnecessary staff, visitors, and inmates; except in an emergency situation, as deemed by the shift supervisor, or if the search will disrupt the normal daily operations of the institution. Note, of course, that in the case of both clothed and unclothed searches, the shift supervisor can determine any situation to be an emergency, and can determine anything to be a disruption of the normal daily operations of the institution. In my experience, this amounts to an "Ignore PREA" provision. Also in my experience, most staff do try to follow this policy and aren't trying to intentionally ignore policy, but it only takes one staff member and one shift supervisor backing them up to make the entire policy essentially pointless. So long as there is an ignore button, someone is going to press it. Other notable PREA policies include access to mental and physical health evaluations, the opportunity to shower separately, and a memo explaining these accommodations to be displayed when needed (when searched or when questioned about trying to adhere to the designated shower time, if such exists). The policy includes training for staff on how to communicate "effectively and professionally with LGBTQ+ inmates. Anyone in the LGBT community who is currently in FL DOC custody knows that this element of policy certainly isn't universally adhered to.
Still, when comparing Florida's policies with those lauded as the best by the Prison Policy Initiative, those of Delaware's DOC, I find Florida's policies look as good on paper. The Prison Policy Initiative data is based not only on policy, but on compliance shown during audits, and the report indicates that the audit results show compliance even when policy does not, and that the audit results are likely faulty. Florida does not include SRS as a tentative part of its treatment regimen in policy. In short, I believe all trans and gender variant inmates in Florida should review Policies 403.012, 602.018, and 602.053. Only when you know what policy dictates can you competently and effectively pursue relief when treatment or accomodation is inconsistent with that policy.
In addition to FL DOC policy, I believe there si a great benefit for all trans or gender variant people to know about some of the legal cases and precedents that shape that policy. In terms of relevancy, I encourage everyone to request Reiyn Keohane vs. Julie Jones. This is the case that resulted in the policy changes described earlier. Another case, from 2019, is Jamie Raye Barnhill vs. Mark Inch (Mark Inch was, until recently, the Secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections). Outside of Florida, but still referenced in Reiyn's case, and other relevant proceedings, are some of these cases:
Konitzer vs. Frank (E.D. Wis 2010)
Nelson vs. Ardeson (W.D. VA
Farmer vs. Perril
De'Lonta vs. Clarke
Schwenk vs. Hartford
Kosilek vs. Spencer
Edmo vs. Corizon, Inc.
Soneeya vs. Spencer (D. Mass 2012)
Farmer vs. Brennan
There also exist many free resources, if you have anyone who can print these materials for you:
Chapter 30 - Jailhouse Lawyer's Manual
You've seen that there are new policies in place here in Florida that may benefit you, but if you've been in prison for any length of time, you know that nothing is perfect, and that includes the application of policy. I genuinely believe that those responsible for maintaining our care, custody, and control, have good intentions (for the most part). I believe some of the failure is in staff training. Our state has a notoriously high turnover rate for corrections officers, and I'm not sure those trained receive all the training they are supposed to receive, nor am I sure that the training provided is comprehensive enough or lengthy enough. I believe this extends not only to the corrections officers, but also to those who work for the medical provider. How can we expect someone to handle questions of gender identity well if they've never been trained to handle those issues before. This is especially true, I think, of those who work in mental health. Not all practitioners have the required experience to competently address gender identity issues, even if they do have appropriate training. It should come as no surprise that they don't know what to do with us. The law essentially says that evaluation by someone untrained and inexperienced amounts to no evaluation at all. I'm a network engineer by profession. I work on computer systems. If I was looking at the drivetrain of a bus, I'd be lost. It's no different. I urge you all to train yourselves. Learn policy, learn legal precedent, and learn what community resources exist to support you. Contact organizations like Black & Pink, Prisoner Correspondence Project, TGI Justice Project, and Lagai / Ultraviolet. Tap into that community, and learn what the possibilities are. Finally, understand that while you are one person, you can make a world of difference. Reiyn Keohane is one person, and she changed everything. You could do the same. Look out for yourself and look out for one another. Be safe and well.
In Solidarity -