Grantee finds that California prisons are failing to uphold transgender rights, despite state law

A recent state law aims to make prison safer for transgender people. But for many trans women it hasn’t worked out that way. (Anna Vignet/KQED)

In a year-long investigation, KQED reporters examined the impact of a new state law that aimed to reduce the trauma of transgender people in California’s prisons. The reporters interviewed a dozen incarcerated people and reviewed data along with several hundred pages of documents that described prison grievances, disciplinary records and legal filings. The reporting revealed that transgender people in prison remain in unsafe environments – with some transgender women still housed in men’s prisons where they are targeted for violence and some transgender people reporting abuse by prison staff. Reporter Lee Romney teamed with Jenny Johnson, a former public defender, to produce a podcast and web story about the law, which on paper gives transgender, nonbinary and intersex people in California prisons the right under most circumstances to be housed in the type of facility that aligns with their gender identity or sense of safety. But the terms of the law are being ignored, they found, and at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla, California, the law has resulted in new traumas for incarcerated people. In response to the story, the state senator who authored the new law said he will work to ensure it is being implemented properly and that transgender people are safe in the state’s prisons.