Transgender, nonbinary and intersex individuals may soon be protected from discrimination while housed in correctional facilities in Maryland. The bill, HB 0426, was introduced by Del. Lesley Lopez, D-Montgomery, and seeks to address the mistreatment that many of these individuals experience while incarcerated.
During a Maryland House Judiciary Committee hearing, Nicole Wells, a trans woman who was incarcerated in 2018 at the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center, gave testimony about the mistreatment she experienced. “I was assaulted by staff. I was raped by staff,” Wells said. “(The correction officer) exposed himself to me and proceeded to force me to perform inhumane acts with him. From there, I was placed in protective custody and in protective custody, you are locked down 24 hours a day…sometimes I didn’t take a shower for weeks.”
The bill would require the Commissioner of Correction to report data regarding the gender identities of inmates along with more customary reporting about the number of inmates who have escaped, been pardoned, or discharged. It would also prohibit correction staff from discriminating against gender nonconforming individuals through housing, improper use of pronouns, housing or activities, and specifies that inmates should not be punished, harassed or face retaliation based on their gender identity.
Additionally, the bill would allow transgender, nonbinary and intersex inmates to be housed in the facility that most closely aligns with their gender identity to try to reduce gender-related violence in prisons. The bill would also allow correctional officers to remove another inmate who poses a threat to the nonconforming gender inmate.
Lopez argued that this bill is necessary to bring Maryland into compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA) and to prevent Maryland from losing Department of Justice grant money. The PREA was signed on Sept. 4, 2003, by President George W. Bush to eliminate prisoner rape in all types of correctional facilities in the country.
The bill would also make feminine hygiene products and hormone medications available for purchase at commissaries and determine annual average costs about individuals’ phone calls to medical providers. The bill would also protect ethnicity, age, and pregnancy status.
According to a Survey of Prison Inmates study, nearly 5,000 transgender people are incarcerated in state prisons, and trans people are frequently denied routine health care in prison.
The bill has 23 other delegate sponsors in the House and is cross-filed with SB 0761, which Sen. Jill Carter, D-Baltimore City, sponsors. While some Republican legislators have raised concerns about the bill, Lopez noted that this is primarily a state liability issue.
“There is a history and a tradition of discriminating against (transgender) persons in particular; there’s a history of violence in the Baltimore City Jail and other correctional facilities for transgender people,” Carter told Capital News Service. “It’s critically important to send a message that discrimination will not be tolerated (and) also to keep people safe and honestly respect their gender identity.”