Trump Admin Alters Obama's Transgender Prison Rules

U.S. President Barack Obama is shown the inside of a cell as he visits the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Oklahoma, July 16, 2015. Obama is the first sitting president to visit a federal prison.
U.S. President Barack Obama is shown the inside of a cell as he visits the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Oklahoma, July 16, 2015. Obama is the first sitting president to visit a federal prison. | (Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

The Donald Trump administration has altered another Obama-era policy on transgender discrimination, this time changing guidelines that seemingly make it harder for inmates to be placed in federal prisons that correspond with their "gender identity," not biological sex.

Last Friday, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons announced changes to the agency's Transgender Offender Manual, which was implemented just days before former Democrat President Barack Obama left office in January 2017.

Among the changes is the scratching out of a line that states that BOP officials "will recommend housing by gender identity when appropriate."

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According to the new guidelines, officials on the BOP Transgender Executive Committee must follow four assessments on a "case-by-case basis" when determining where to place alleged transgender inmates.

According to the guideline assessments, "the TEC will use biological sex as the initial determination for designation."

Additionally, the TEC must consider the "health and safety of the transgender inmate" and explore "options available to assist with mitigating risk to the transgender offender."

Additionally, the TEC is called on to consider "factors specific to the transgender inmate, such as behavioral history, overall demeanor, and likely interactions with other inmates."

"The TEC will consider whether placement would threaten the management and security of the institution and/or pose a risk to other inmates in the institution," the policy reads.

According to the new guidelines, it is appropriate to place an inmate in a facility based on gender-identity "only in rare cases after consideration of all of the above factors and where there has been significant progress towards transition as demonstrated by medical and mental health history."

A BOP spokesperson told NBC News that the new manual "articulates the balance of safety needs of transgender inmates as well as other inmates" on a case-by-case basis, citing issues of trauma and "privacy concerns."

"Additionally, the manual now states that training on the management of transgender inmates will include information about best practices for maintaining the safety of the transgender inmates as well as the safety of staff, other inmates, and the public," the spokesperson added.

The policy change comes after the a group of female prisoners at Federal Medical Center Carswell in Fort Worth filed a legal complaint against the 2017 Obama-era guideline and 2012 regulations that required local, state and federal prisons to consider gender identity when placing transgender inmates.

The plaintiffs claim that the rules force them to share facilities with "men who allege they are women."

"These men openly express their sexual desire for the women inmates, at times, in the showers, and bathrooms, while women are naked or partially clothed," the women's complaint reads. "The men expose themselves, intentionally, for their own sexual gratification, causing the Plaintiffs to suffer disgust, embarrassment, humiliation, stress, degradation, fear and loss of dignity."

The policy change also comes after a U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor in Texas issued an injunction last year against the policy.

LGBT advocacy groups have voiced their opposition to the policy change and claim that such a policy is "harmful" to the transgender community.

"The extreme rates of physical and sexual violence faced by transgender people in our nation's prisons is a stain on the entire criminal justice system," Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a statement. "Instead of leaving the existing policy alone, the administration is clearly prepared to encourage federal prisons to violate federal law and advance its own inhumane agenda."

On the other side of the debate, the new Trump administration policy was praised heavily by social conservative groups, including the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council.

"It doesn't take a genius to realize that criminals, especially men, would do anything — including lie about their gender identity — to gain access to women. As someone who used to work in the prison system, let me tell you: that's a recipe for disaster," FRC President Tony Perkins said in a statement. "Mixing populations in a cell block or bathrooms puts everyone, including the prison staff, at risk. Essentially, Obama's regulations turned an already volatile situation into a predator's paradise."

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