JDI IN THE NEWS - 2009

Sylvia Cochran, California LGBT Prisoner Safety Act to Protect Gay and Transgendered Inmates from Prison Rape, but Lacks Details, AssociatedContent.com, May 11, 2009

Rape of LGBT inmates has been a disgrace in the California prison system for a while, and the LGBT Prisoner Safety Act (AB 382) is intended to end this crime. Is a lack of enforceability its downfall?

LGBT Prisoner Safety Act (AB 382) Introduced by California Assembly Member Tom Ammiano

Tom Ammiano - you may remember the San Francisco democrat as also being the legislator whose California marijuana bill proposes legalizing marijuana tax to equal $1 a joint - introduced Assembly Bill No. 382, the LGBT Prisoner Safety Act. The legislation protecting LGBT inmates from rape was initially introduced on February 23rd, but it was not until May 11th that it passed the assembly with bipartisan support.

Goals of the LGBT Prisoner Safety Act

Just Detention International reveals that 67% of LGBT inmates are victims of rape or other forms of sexual assault. This figure is actually 15% higher than the incidents of sexual abuse experienced by inmates who do not identify as LGBT. Passage of the LGBT Prisoner Safety Act would introduce "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" as criteria the Department of Corrections would take into consideration when classifying inmates and allocating their housing.

Implementing the LGBT Prisoner Safety Act Presents Problems

The numbers bear out that LGBT inmates are more vulnerable to sexual assaults than the rest of the inmate population, but the implementation of the LGBT Prisoner Safety Act may present some problems. Tom Ammiano himself is quoted by the Bay Area Reporter Online as stating that he has no idea how much the implementation of the LGBT Prisoner Safety Act will cost. He is leaving this detail to the appropriations committee. California - already cash strapped and teetering on the edge of bankruptcy or at least insolvency - is facing a budget deficit of epic proportions. Overcrowding and unacceptable conditions have previously led to one third of the California prison inmates being handed "get out of jail free" cards by federal judges barring necessary improvements in the jail system. This presents a unique problem to the implementation of the LGBT Prisoner Safety Act and might lead to little more than a segregation of LGBT inmates from the rest of the inmate population. While initially this would indeed protect LGBT inmates, it is certain to lead to system abuse by non-LGBT inmates who seek the protection against sexual abuse and violence the regular inmate population experiences. Falsely self identifying as being LGBT would then introduce non LGBT inmates into the group. There they might once again perpetrate the very violence against LGBT inmates against which these inmates sought protection. Since the LGBT Prisoner Safety Act fails to mention a litmus test of verifying identifying criteria, the implementation quite possibly will be the downfall of an otherwise much needed piece of legislation.


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