The NYC Board of Correction is Planning on Dismantling the Trans Housing Unit at Rikers

17 Nov The NYC Board of Correction is Planning on Dismantling the Trans Housing Unit at Rikers

The NYC Department of Correction Commissioner is claiming that its plan to shutter the life-saving Trans Housing Unit, or THU, on Rikers Island alleging that PREA (the Federal Prison Rape Elimination Act) prohibits the segregation of transgender inmates based on their anatomy.

“Its our understanding that it would be contrary to the current law as we have it set-up today.”  Commissioner Ponte stated after the November 15, 2016 BOC meeting during which advocates rallied to try to convince the BOC to retain the unit:

ponteliesthu“…So we are not going to close the unit today, but we are going to try to work with the advocates to find a way to keep the unit open to everyone’s satisfaction but we have to deal with the contrary piece of the law,” Commissioner Ponte said to NY1 Reporter Courtney Gross after the hearing who provided a one-sided report on this issue.

The language of a specific PREA statute, 115.42 does not prohibit the existence of the THU.  The language prohibits mandated assignment of transgender prisoners based on genitalia alone:  that does not extend to a voluntary unit where considerations of genitalia are one of the many considerations factoring into placement.  JAC was joined by Senior Staff Attorney Erin Beth (“Ruthie”) Harris of the New York City Liberties Union on July 26, 2016 at the NYCBOC hearing who clarified this issue:


Erin Beth (“Ruthie”) Harris, Senior Staff Attorney, NYCLU, Explains to the NYC Board of Correction Why Interpreting PREA standard 115.42 to mean that the current Trans Gender Housing Unit must be dismantled is a wrong reading of the law:

ebh-copy“The THU should be retained:  it is simply an essential option for tras women most of whom would be subjected to severe harassment and violence if they were to be housed within a facility with men.  So we believe that an affirmative statement remanding the existence of the THU should be added along with the requirements for training THU staff on how to address the needs of transgender prisoners ensuring that people in the THU have access to the same programming as other people who are incarcerated in those facilities.”