Activists push for GLBT sensitivity training within county jail system
Tour of transgender housing unit to take place within the month
Published Thursday, 30-Mar-2006 in issue 953
Members of the GLBT community have asked the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department to instate comprehensive GLBT sensitivity training for staff within the county jail system.
A meeting with Sheriff’s Department Commander Ken Culver, City Commissioner Nicole Murray-Ramirez and The Center’s public policy director AJ Davis took place March 20 to overview Sheriff’s Department processes and procedures pertaining to all inmates, especially those within the GLBT community, and to discuss future plans for training.
Davis said she was impressed with the Sheriff’s Department’s willingness to have the meeting and their cooperation overall on the issue.
“They’re responding well to the situation. They really want to work with us,” Davis said. “I was really impressed with the measures they have taken, considering we have not contacted them before, so they’ve done all this on their own.”
Some of those measures include a separate housing unit for transgender inmates and others who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual at the George F. Bailey Detention Facility. Culver said the unit can house up to 12 inmates.
The Sheriff’s Department operates seven major detention facilities or jails, which are spread throughout San Diego County. The George F. Bailey Detention Facility is the largest of all the detention facilities.
Culver said all inmates meet with a registered nurse and go through a health history and an assessment of any medical needs.
“For example, if someone were on hormone therapy and if they wanted to continue hormone therapy in custody, then they could make that request at that time,” Culver said. “Our medical staff can verify prescriptions for hormone therapy and continue that when they’re in custody. If someone is post-operative or they might need a brassiere, they can get a bra while in custody.”
Culver overviewed the booking process step by step during the meeting, and also outlined how inmates are classified upon being housed within the county jail system. He said each inmate meets with a classification deputy who runs their criminal history and goes through a questionnaire to assess a number of risk factors.
“Then, based on what they learn about that individual and their needs, they make a determination of where that person would be housed,” Culver said. “The whole idea behind it is that we’re housing people of like criminal sophistication together and people that are at like risk categories together. Certainly, one of the factors that they look at is if we have a transgender individual.”
If an inmate needs some added level of protection, or if their behaviors and/or appearance are seen as problematic for the general population, then the inmates are put into segregated housing units, Culver explained. “We don’t segregate solely on the basis of sexual orientation,” he said. “There are gay and lesbian inmates who are very suitable for mainline population.”
Culver said the detention-facility staff evaluates all circumstances surrounding each inmate, and makes a decision about whether each inmate will be housed in the general population or within a special unit.
“It could be because of enemies in custody. It may be that individual may not be suitable for mainline; they might go into this unit that we’re talking about,” Culver said.
Davis said she and Murray-Ramirez are in the beginning stages of working with the Sheriff’s Department to set up sensitivity training pertaining to the GLBT community.
Murray-Ramirez believes it’s important that a member from the transgender community is involved in the training itself.
Sheriff’s Department staff participates in training at the San Diego Regional Law Enforcement Training Center located on the Miramar College campus, Culver said. Part of that training involves a module on diversity, but he said he is unfamiliar with the exact subject matter discussed. He said he will connect Murray-Ramirez and Davis with the instructor of the class to see if any enhancements can be made. Culver said another way to educate staff about issues is through training bulletins that are sent via e-mail each month.
Davis said a tour of the George F. Bailey Detention Center to see the transgender housing unit and talk to inmates will be arranged with Captain John Ingrassia within the next month.
“Things have definitely changed, from what I saw – everything from the booking process to the treatment,” said Murray-Ramirez, who said he recalled that, more than 20 years ago, transgender people were mistreated while in custody. The mistreatment ranged from not providing access to medication to outright abuse, he said.
Murray-Ramirez said he was interested in the booking process and treatment of GLBT inmates at Sheriff’s Department facilities because of an incident involving Vanessa Facen, a 35-year-old transgender woman who died on Nov. 21, four days after a fight with sheriff’s deputies at the San Diego Central Jail.
Facen fought with deputies and medical personnel numerous times after she was found naked and bleeding inside her neighbor’s Spring Valley home on Nov. 17.
Although Facen had breasts and lived as a woman, the Sheriff’s Department was treating her as a man because she had male genitalia, Lt. Tom Bennett told The Associated Press.
Sgt. Rick Empson told AP that there was nothing to indicate that the use of force caused her death.