Texas prison records show more than 330 transgender inmates

Inmates hang out on their bunks in a new unit in the Harris County Texas Jail for gay, bisexual and transgender inmates in Houston in this 2013 photo.. AP Photo, Pat Sullivan, File.

Austin, Texas (AP) — Texas prison system records show the number of inmates identifying themselves as transgender is at an all-time high amid greater awareness of gender issues and criminal justice reforms.

The Dallas Morning News (http://bit.ly/2dgOf5u ) reported Wednesday that 333 inmates currently identify themselves as transgender. Texas Department of Criminal Justice records show that compares to 67 inmates identifying themselves as transgender in September 2014.

Jason Clark, a TDCJ spokesman, said Thursday in a statement that the prison system, as of Tuesday, had 145,795 offenders.

Transgender prisoners require special attention under new federal regulations to reduce inmate sexual assault. The National Inmate Survey administered by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that incarcerated transgender people are far more likely to be the targets of violence and rape than the average inmate in the general prison population.

The Prison Rape Elimination Act requires officials to provide special accommodations to transgender inmates, including prohibiting strip or cavity searches by a guard of the opposite gender. Administrators must also consider an inmate's gender identity when deciding on housing assignments.

Attorney Terry Schuster, who's written extensively about LGBT inmates, says more people who are transgender are coming out.

"Both in the free world and among people who are incarcerated, more people who are transgender are coming out, period," Schuster said. "Transgender rights and transgender identity is just becoming more and more accepted."

Schuster said the cause for the increase is unknown, however Demoya Gordon, an attorney with the LGBT rights group Lambda Legal, said greater access to hormone therapy for Texas inmates could also help explain the increase.

Flor Bermudez, detention project director at the Transgender Law Center, said she worried that the spike in self-identifying inmates is explained by a spike in arrests of transgender people or because some transgender prisoners are fed up with current conditions and are now asking for special attention to avoid assault and violence.

"I have seen a trend of just more people who are transgender seeking remedy for all the violations they are subject to," Bermudez said. "Particularly on sexual violence, there is no improvement. If anything, things are getting worse."

Information from: The Dallas Morning News, http://www.dallasnews.com

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The Gayly – September 30, 2016 @ 6:50 a.m.