Additional Information about Jail Policies
by Lincoln Rose
When Mike (not his real name) told me he'd been up for 48 hours straight because he and another FTM had been arrested, concerned for their safety, the only thing I could think to do was try to create a new policy to stop this sort of thing. So, about a year ago, a group of people joined with me and we began our research.
I am proud to report that at the end of August, the King County Jail signed a new trans jail policy. Among other things, there will be no more strip searches to see what's between our legs, and the definition of staff we got was expanded to cover anybody with access to the jail, not just paid employees. That was important because it holds the jail accountable for the actions of volunteers and other folks.
We learned a lot of things as we went through that year. If this seems like the kind of work you may want to do, here's some advice from my group to yours:
- Get a copy of the jail's current policies. This is public information, and they have to supply it. There should be a procedure for requesting it. And be broad when you ask. We looked at not only their strip search policy, but their policies around determining housing, health care needs, inmate complaints, booking, good time and educational programs access, and sexual assault policy. Also ask for a copy of their inmate handbook. It will tell you a lot about how the rubber hits the road. You'll have to pay a small fee for copies, but it will save you a lot of time if you know what's in place. Plus, you will know what sort of language they use so that your recommendations can sound familiar to them.
- Assemble as diverse a team as you can. You can't think of everything on your own, and you shouldn't try to. My team had no hormone no op trans folks, people of color, other people with disabilities, folks who had been arrested for sex work, people who worked for politicians, and poor folks. If you can't assemble a real diverse crowd, don't give up and leave those voices out. There are things you can read to help you learn, and there is a larger community out here that does answer emails, especially if they know you're about some world-changing stuff.
- Research, Research, Research. Look at policy, state law, federal law. Ask around your community and see if anyone has been arrested and spent time in the jail you're working on. Look around the country and see what's happening to trans folks in jails and prisons in other communities. Talk to politicians, local and state level. You'd be surprised who really cares about issues of fairness in jail. Then, go back and research again.
- Get it proofread by people outside your team. After your team has knocked out a couple of drafts of policy recommendations, get them proofread by people who are not on your team. Not only does it give your eyes a break, but people who are not as invested will catch things you can't because your brain is close to melting. Ask more people than you think you'll need, because not everyone you ask, even if they support you, will find the time to read it.
- Hold a public forum. A couple of drafts after you get it proofread hold a community forum. When we did this, someone brought it to our attention that we had forgotten to address bathroom and shower issues! We were so fried and detail focused by then, that it was good to have some people looking at the whole picture. It also keeps you connected and accountable to your community. That accountability thing is important.
- Always have a backup plan. We worked with the jail very much on the low and quiet, and we got the policy in. However, we also had a plan with local people to apply small pressure should they stonewall us or drag their feet. Then, we also had a plan to bring national attention to the problem if they decided to completely dig in their heels. Things stayed nice and friendly, but the point is that we had the plans intact, and people in the community were on alert. Better to be prepared and not need it than to be caught flat-footed if something goes south suddenly.
- Don't forget to eat! We always had snacks/dinner on hand, even if it was only Taco Bell. Eating keeps up your energy and helps build a team feeling.
Those are the big points of advice from our team to yours. If you have any questions or want help planning your own work, feel free to contact me by clicking here.
It's important to protect all of our people, rich or poor, guilty or innocent.
Transgender theology student/activist
PS....also, be prepared to respond to negativity within our community for doing this work. Unfortunately, queer people are not immune to the idea that people who are in jail or prison deserve anything that happens to them.To view the 52 Things You Can Do for Transgender Equality, click here.