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Safety and Solidarity Across Gender Lines: Rethinking Segregation of Transgender People in Detention

Posted: 18 Aug 2010  

Gabriel Arkles

Northeastern University - School of Law

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: Spring 2009


Transgender, intersex, and gender nonconforming (TIGNC) people, particularly people of color, are disproportionately incarcerated because of societal discrimination, widespread poverty, immigration policies, police profiling, and bias in court proceedings. Once incarcerated, TIGNC people, particularly transgender women placed in men’s facilities, experience exceedingly high levels of sexual and other physical violence. Officials in detention systems often place TIGNC people against their will in isolating segregated settings as a form of protection, punishment, or prevention. At times advocates seem to assume that such placements are appropriate settings to protect TIGNC people from violence in detention. However, the premise that such placements are “protective” relies on at least two assumptions. The first is that isolation and control, rather than relationships and freedom, reduce violence. The second is that other prisoners, rather than facility staff, are the primary perpetrators of violence from whom TIGNC people need protection within detention systems.

While courts have generally accepted these assumptions without question, neither is well-supported when viewed the context of the experiences of imprisoned TIGNC people. Rather, involuntary segregation disrupts opportunities for non-violent and anti-violent relationships among TIGNC and other prisoners and often exposes TIGNC people to greater systemic, staff-perpetrated, and psychological violence. Justifications for involuntary segregation of TIGNC people can also draw on racist stereotypes of all imprisoned men of color as violent rapists and undermine important opportunities for collaboration among movements. The importance of community-building and self-determination in creating safety must remain central in consideration of measures to reduce the violence against TIGNC people in detention.

Keywords: transgender, prison, solitary confinement, gender identity, transsexual, incarceration, detention

Suggested Citation

Arkles, Gabriel, Safety and Solidarity Across Gender Lines: Rethinking Segregation of Transgender People in Detention (Spring 2009). Temple Political & Civil Rights Law Review, Vol. 18, No. 515, 2009. Available at SSRN:

Gabriel Arkles (Contact Author)

Northeastern University - School of Law ( email )

416 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
United States

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