ACLU-NJ and Garden State Equality to County Jails: Follow the Law and House Transgender People According to Gender Identity

September 2, 2021

Advocates remind facilities of obligations under Law Against Discrimination and urge adoption of new policy

On August 26, the ACLU of New Jersey and Garden State Equality (GSE) sent letters to every county jail in New Jersey reminding them of their legal responsibility to respect the rights of transgender people and urging them to adopt new policies and practices to ensure that people can be housed in line with their gender identity, and not sex assigned at birth.

Earlier this summer, the New Jersey Department of Corrections enacted a new state prison policy that implements protections for people in state custody who are transgender, intersex, and non-binary. This policy was adopted in June as a result of a lawsuit brought by Sonia Doe (a pseudonym), who was represented by the ACLU of New Jersey and attorney Robyn Gigl of GluckWalrath LLP. During her time in custody, Sonia Doe was forced to live as a man while being housed in four different men’s prisons despite the Department of Corrections’ knowledge that she is a woman.  

Sonia Doe is not the only transgender person who faced extraordinary risk of emotional and physical harm in New Jersey prisons. In a national survey, 21 percent of transgender women confined in men’s facilities reported suffering physical abuse while in prison, and 20 percent reported sexual violence.

“The Department of Corrections’ new policy was a significant step forward in the effort to ensure that transgender, intersex, and non-binary people in state custody are treated fairly and with dignity,” said Jeanne LoCicero, Legal Director at the ACLU of New Jersey. “With thousands of other people in custody in county jails, it is also urgent for jail leaders to act and adopt similar policies and practices that respect gender identity.”

“Too many transgender, intersex, and non-binary people have faced disrespect, discrimination, and danger while in custody,” said Christian Fuscarino, Executive Director of Garden State Equality. “Notifying county jails of their legal obligation to respect transgender, intersex, and non-binary people in their custody is a crucial step towards ending such discrimination in New Jersey.”

After receiving the letter from the ACLU of New Jersey and GSE, the New Jersey Association of Counties told the New Jersey Monitor that county jail wardens would adopt the protections the Department of Corrections had undertaken, saying, “all [wardens] will make sure to comply with the new protocols to ensure that ‘transgender people in custody are respected in housing decisions, interactions with correctional staff, and other aspects of their lives in jail,’ as noted in the letter.”

The full letter can be found here.

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