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

46 Pages Posted: 2 Aug 2012

See all articles by Gabriel Arkles

Gabriel Arkles

Northeastern University - School of Law

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: June 8, 2009


This Article examines the enforcement of racialized gender norms through the regulation of dress in prisons. Dress, including hair and clothing, is central to the ways government and other institutions enforce hierarchical social norms based on the intersection of race and gender, as well as religion, sexuality, class, age, and disability For many people, dress is a way to express identity, exercise autonomy, practice religion, participate politically, experience pleasure, preserve health, and/or avoid violence. My review of prison dress regulations shows that prison systems commonly impose penalties including solitary confinement for deviations from dominant social norms, such as wearing hair in an Afro, covering hair with a headscarf, or having long hair if incarcerated as a man. I situate prison rules in the historical context of dress regulation and prison evolution in the United States. The justifications that prison officials offer for these rules, including repression of homosexuality and group affiliation, prevention of attacks and escapes, and promotion of hygiene and rehabilitation, raise normative and instrumental concerns. Nonetheless, courts frequently diminish individual and community interests in dress while deferring to prison regulations that lack a complete or credible justification. Finally, I propose an integrated approach to change through policy amendments, doctrinal shifts, and broader grassroots efforts for social transformation consistent with a goal of prison abolition.

Suggested Citation

Arkles, Gabriel, Safety and Solidarity Across Gender Lines: Rethinking Segregation of Transgender People in Detention (June 8, 2009). Temple Political & Civil Rights Law Review, Vol. 18, No. 2, p. 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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