County jails told to follow the law and house trans people according to gender identity

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Jersey City, NJ Transgender March on February 3 2017. Photo by B. Nick.
File photo: Jersey City, NJ Transgender March on February 3 2017. Photo by B. Nick.

Garden State Equality and ACLU-NJ sent letters to every county jail to remind them of the law

Every county jail in New Jersey was reminded of their legal responsibility to respect the rights of transgender people in a letter sent in late August. In the letter the jails were urged to adopt new policies and practices to ensure that people can be housed in line with their gender identity and not sex assigned at birth.

Christian Fuscarino is the executive Director of Garden State Equality
Garden State Equality Executive Director Christian Fuscarino

After receiving the letter from the ACLU of New Jersey and GSE, the New Jersey Association of Counties told the New Jersey Monitor that county jail wardens would adopt the protections the Department of Corrections had undertaken, saying, “all [wardens] will make sure to comply with the new protocols to ensure that ‘transgender people in custody are respected in housing decisions, interactions with correctional staff, and other aspects of their lives in jail,’ as noted in the letter.”

“Too many transgender, intersex, and non-binary people have faced disrespect, discrimination and danger while in custody,” said Christian Fuscarino, Executive Director of Garden State Equality. “Notifying county jails of their legal obligation to respect transgender, intersex and non-binary people in their custody is a crucial step towards ending such discrimination in New Jersey.”

Earlier this summer, the New Jersey Department of Corrections enacted a new state prison policy that implements protections for people in state custody who are transgender, intersex and non-binary. This policy was adopted in June.

It was a result of a lawsuit brought by Sonia Doe (a pseudonym), who was represented by the ACLU of New Jersey and attorney Robyn Gigl of GluckWalrath LLP. During her time in custody, Sonia Doe was forced to live as a man while being housed in four different men’s prisons despite the Department of Corrections’ knowledge that she is a woman.

Sonia Doe is not the only transgender person who faced extraordinary risk of emotional and physical harm in New Jersey prisons. In a national survey, 21 percent of transgender women confined in men’s facilities reported suffering physical abuse while in prison, and 20 percent reported sexual violence.

“The Department of Corrections’ new policy was a significant step forward in the effort to ensure that transgender, intersex, and non-binary people in state custody are treated fairly and with dignity,” said Jeanne LoCicero, Legal Director at the ACLU of New Jersey. “With thousands of other people in custody in county jails, it is also urgent for jail leaders to act and adopt similar policies and practices that respect gender identity.”

Journalist Chelsey Johnstone is the former Project Manager for Greater Trenton and was primary writer for TrentonDaily. She is a senior journalism major at Montclair State University and former communication and music student at Mercer County Community College. While attending her community college, Chelsey led her student newspaper, The College VOICE, as Editor-in-Chief. Now, Chelsey is working to advance her journalist skills freelancing for Out in Jersey Magazine and Unclear Magazine with the hope of positively impacting the world of reporting.