Transgender inmates to be housed by gender preference in San Francisco jail

The move, a pivot from the current segregation policy, is a first for US prisons and includes individuals who have yet to undergo gender reassignment surgery

A person holds the bars in a jail cell
The San Francisco sheriff said he hopes the decision will help bring about changes in perceptions of transgender people. Photograph: Fat Chance Productions/Corbis

Transgender inmates at the San Francisco county jail will soon be jailed based on each individual’s gender preference, making the county the first in the US to institute such a change.

The office of San Francisco sheriff Ross Mirkarimi told the Guardian on Friday that the program would be implemented slowly over the coming weeks but that by the end of the year, each inmate’s housing preference would be decided on a case-by-case basis.

Mirkarimi, who is up for re-election this November, hopes the decision will help bring about changes in perceptions of transgender people and enable deputies to better oversee the inmates in their custody.

“The goal is to help everyone involved and to ensure there is not a lot of isolation that exists among transgender inmates,” his office said.

The move will be a change from the current segregation of transgender inmates from the general jail population. According to county jail officials, there are six transgender women being housed. Mirkarimi’s plan would permit transgender individuals who have yet to have gender reassignment surgery to be placed in housing with those of the same gender.

The announcement has been largely praised by San Francisco’s transgender community, although there are concerns that without proper oversight and deputies on duty, it could lead to altercations.

“I am very pleased that this is happening right now, especially after the violence against transgender people this year has left many of us frustrated and scared,” said Diane, a 28-year-old transgender woman who had gender reassignment surgery in 2012. She believes the decision “will help create a better understanding of who we are as people, but because a lot of people don’t understand us, I do fear what kind of reaction other prisoners could have”.

California currently has over 350 transgender women and 22 transgender men receiving hormone treatment.