Problematic Behavior or Activity
At the end of 2013, the Transgender Policy was reviewed by a select group of management and supervisors from the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office. We were seeing an influx of self-identified trans clients. Staff didn’t have a clear direction about how to handle a trans-identified person appropriately. There was a growing awareness of this population’s needs and we were not staying current with community standards on appropriate treatment of transgender individuals. MCSO was looking to develop a progressive policy that met correctional goals and aligned with community expectations. The former policy was confusing to many MCSO members and was not up to date with Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) standards as they relate to transgender individuals. This policy is intended to address the requirements as outlined in the PREA standards, which require zero tolerance for discrimination and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. A transgender inmate creates a unique challenge when booked into custody and housed in a jail. The unique challenges include binary housing (male/female), determination of which deputy will perform a strip search if an individual stays in custody, and how to keep individuals safe without resorting to isolation/segregation.
Impact on the Community
Lack of a progressive transgender management policy that is aligned with societal norms and changes causes a clash between law enforcement agencies and the community. Additionally, there was discord internally between the community needs and MCSO goals. Prior to the new booking policy, most transgender individuals were placed in administrative segregation or protective custody because of their self-disclosure. They would end up not getting the same access to all the same things as an inmate who identified as their gender at birth. Individuals were booked into custody and would not want to self-disclose because they knew what that meant for them and the stigma associated with being transgender.
The policy of the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office Corrections Division is to ensure the respectful, courteous, and professional treatment of transgender inmates, as well as respect for the sexual orientation or gender identity of any person in custody, while maintaining the safety, security, and orderly operation of all correctional facilities. MCSO has zero tolerance for any staff sexual misconduct or sexual harassment directed toward LGBTQI arrestees/inmates. MCSO has zero tolerance for derogatory terms used toward LGBTQI inmates.
Key Elements include:
- Notify the supervisor when a transgender person comes into custody. The supervisor should be directing staff on the next steps and notifying the appropriate parties that a transgender individual is in custody so that all aspects of the policy can be executed.
- Staff shall NOT search or physically examine a transgender–identified arrestee/inmate for the sole purpose of determining the inmate’s gender at birth.
- LGBTQI individuals shall NOT be subject to more invasive searches than other inmates.
- If a gender cannot be determined, a female deputy shall perform the pat search (female staff are allowed to pat down both genders).
- Transgender inmates will NOT be placed in isolation because of how they identify.
- Conversations involving the transgender inmate with regard to their gender identity shall be conducted in private, such as an isolation cell, exam room, or where no other inmates can hear the conversation.
- Inmates may NOT be disciplined for refusing to answer or for not disclosing complete information in response to screening questions regarding gender identification.
- The Intake Sergeant shall have the inmate fill out and sign the Strip Search Preference Form.
- Two staff members shall be present during a strip search, preferably a sergeant and deputy. The gender of the staff shall be in line with the strip search form that was signed by the inmate.
- Inmates identified as transgender shall be housed at MCDC 4A module or MCIJ Dorm 18 for up to 72 hours, excluding weekends and holidays, while the Transgender Review Board assesses appropriate housing options.
- The Intake Sergeant shall notify the OIC of the booking and forward the following documentation to the facility Commander: Booking Custody, Strip Search Form, and Information Report.
- The Transgender Review Board consists of the Facility Commander, Corrections Health Director, PREA Coordinator and Classification Sergeant and Mental Health Manager.
- Once the board meets, a management plan will be put into place that consists of the following:
housing area, charges, movement out of housing, transportation, strip searches, and who will be the liaison
Based on Research
MCSO spent a year working on this policy. It was vetted through all the involved parties, which included MCSO Command Staff, Basic Rights Oregon, Multnomah County Attorney, and Corrections Health. When doing the research for this policy, we used three progressive policies we found being used in the U.S. The three policies were:
- Shawnee County Department of Corrections, Illinois
- Harris County Sheriff’s Department, Texas
- Denver Sheriff’s Department
There three counties had similarities and worked with the logistics and operations of the Justice Center and Inverness Jail.
A training budget would be helpful to get the best transgender training.
There have been roughly 100 self-identified transgender individuals booked into custody at the Multnomah County Jail within the past calendar year. We now have a policy that walks staff step-by-step through the booking process and on to housing if it is needed. We have successfully housed transgender individuals in modules that affirm their gender identity and with other inmates with the same gender identity. We have successfully housed a transgender male for close to two years in a male housing unit.
We have had a positive reaction from the transgender individuals in our custody.
Critical Success Factors
The policy has been a success for the county. The policy has been challenged by staff but has had support from command staff. Evaluating rough numbers of individuals who have been booked into custody shows the growing need for the new policy.
Our policy was developed with the hope of staff training being introduced before the release of the policy, but we had budgetary constraints that didn’t make it possible to implement the policy after staff were trained. Although a lieutenant spoke at every shift briefing prior to the policy being released, training needed to be launched prior to the policy in order to give staff clear guidelines for how the policy would be operationalized.
Another lesson learned is that picking a core group of sergeants and deputies to help advocate for a policy this challenging for staff would be helpful in getting staff buy-in. Staff will be problematic when dealing with individuals or issues they don’t understand, so having trained supervisory and peer staff to work closely with deputies could help offset some of these challenges.