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Lawsuit Accuses California of Endangering Female Prisoners By Forcing Them to Share Housing with Biological Males

An inmate is checked into the Orange County jail in Santa Ana, Calif., in 2011. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

A feminist advocacy organization sued the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation on Wednesday, accusing the agency of putting female prisoners at risk by housing biological males in women’s prisons.

The Women’s Liberation Front lawsuit, first reported by the Daily Signal, argues that the state department of corrections of is violating the First, Eighth and 14th amendments with a new law known as the Transgender Respect, Agency, and Dignity Act, or SB 132.

The suit, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Corrections Secretary Kathleen Allison, and wardens Michael Pallares and Mona Houston, says the law “cannot be applied in any manner that avoids violating the federal and state constitutional rights” of the plaintiffs.

Plaintiff Krystal Gonzalez says she was sexually assaulted by a biological male who was transferred to Central California Women’s Facility under the law. According to the suit, when Gonzalez filed a complaint and requested to be housed away from men the prison’s response called her alleged attacker a “transgender woman with a penis.”

“Krystal does not believe that women have penises and the psychological distress caused by her assault is exacerbated by the prison’s refusal to acknowledge the sex of her perpetrator,” the lawsuit says.

California governor Gavin Newsom signed the bill into law in September 2020. It requires the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to “house transgender, gender-nonconforming and intersex (TGI) individuals in a manner that matches their gender identity while supporting health and safety.”

The measure requires the department to ask all individuals entering its custody to state their personal pronouns, their gender identity and whether they identify as transgender, nonbinary or intersex. It prohibits the department from disciplining a prisoner who refuses to answer the questions and also allows the information to be updated at a later date.

Under the law, the prison system must house the individual in a “correctional facility designated for men or women based on the individual’s preference.”

A total of 295 inmates who were housed in an institution for males had requested to be moved to a women’s facility as of July 26, according to the Daily Caller.

Gonzalez is one of several plaintiffs included in the suit, along with the nonprofit advocacy group Woman II Woman, which helps incarcerated women affected by the new law, and prisoners Janine Chandler, Tomiekia Johnson, and Nadia Romero, as well as several unnamed individuals.

“California is home to the largest women’s prison in the world, where being degraded and humiliated is now part of the daily routine,” Woman II Woman founder Amie Ichikawa told the Daily Signal

“This anti-woman law was overwhelmingly accepted by the California State Assembly members, embraced by our representatives and lauded by our senators,” Ichikawa added. “Sadly, this even includes the California Women’s Caucus. We do not understand how so many people, especially women, had the audacity to turn a blind eye to this abuse.”

The suit says the plaintiffs have experienced “fear, anxiety, depression, and/or post-traumatic stress disorder” from housing, dining, showering and recreating with biological men

“Some incarcerated women sharing a cell with a man, along with other women, now make sleep schedules among the women so that a woman is on watch to try to prevent rape by the male cellmate,” the lawsuit says.

It adds that staff in women’s prisons are now “armed with new, stronger pepper spray and riot control measures in anticipation that men are stronger and more violent than women.” 

One prisoner who was transferred to a women’s prison under the new laws is a twice-convicted baby killer who is now being housed in the same facility as the mother of his children, whom he killed, according to the Daily Signal.

The lawsuit is backed by several organizations, including Keep Prisons Single Sex, the Family Policy Alliance, Concerned Women for America, the U.S. chapter of the Women’s Human Rights Campaign, the Independent Women’s Law Center, and the California Family Council.

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