VICTORIA, B.C. — British Columbia Corrections, headquartered in Victoria, recently announced it will now base inmate housing decisions on an inmate’s gender identity, a shift from the old policy of housing inmates according to physical or birth gender.
The earlier policy required inmates seeking housing that aligned with their gender identity to have first undergone gender reassignment surgery. However, the new policy allows inmates who self-identify as transgender to be more involved in their housing placement. Under the new policy, the only issues that could potentially override an inmate’s gender-based housing preference are health and/or safety. Those concerns will be clearly articulated to the inmate, according to the revised policy, and consultation with a medical director and/or the director of mental health services will also be required.
“The written policy is still under development, but…the application of the policy is already underway,” Suzanne Anton, justice minister, told The Georgia Straight in a Nov. 4 interview. “We have had our first person placed based on gender identity, and it seems to have worked out very well.”
Additional accommodations such as providing transgender inmates with their preferred institutional clothing and personal care items were also included in the new policy as well as allowing transgender inmates to bathe privately. Together, these changes are expected to reduce the inmates’ risk of assault or sexual harassment.
British Columbia is the second Canadian province to adopt a gender identity-based housing policy. Ontario first shifted from housing based on “primary sexual characteristics” in January, and now allows inmates to be housed according to their gender identity. Those inmates can also use their preferred name and pronoun. At the time of Ontario’s announcement, Correctional Services Minister Yasir Naqvi called the move “the most progressive policy on the treatment of trans inmates in North America.”
In September, both the city of San Francisco and the state of Pennsylvania took steps to improve the treatment of transgender inmates. Like Ontario and British Columbia, San Francisco will begin allowing transgender inmates to select their housing option of choice following a review process conducted by experts representing the transgender population. The inmates will also be able to participate in education and rehabilitation classes with their chosen gender.
Similarly, Pennsylvania announced plans in late September to cease sending transgender inmates to solitary confinement solely on the basis of their gender identity, which is often done to protect transgender inmates from violence and sexual assault. This move, along with allowing transgender inmates to shower separately and more closely reviewing inmate health and safety, will also help the state align with Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) standards.