The city’s Department of Corrections will open a transgender housing unit at Rikers Island this week, as part of its larger reform initiative to make prisons safer.
The 30-bed unit is designed as a separate space where transgender inmates will have access to specialized medical care.
It will also decrease violence–trans inmates are often targets, and until now the only alternative to the general prison population was solitary confinement.
“Just as adolescents, young adults, and mentally ill inmates have specialized needs, so do men who identify as women,” DOC Commissioner Joe Ponte said in a press release. “Providing them with specialized housing and services is good policy and meaningful reform and is expected to reduce incidents involving these individuals.”
This is the city’s second attempt at a separate unit for LGBT prisoners. The last one ended in 2005, due to a number of straight inmates prone to violence, who requested to be in the unit, exploiting the more vulnerable trans population.
The new unit will also be voluntary, but after consulting with advocacy groups the DOC is more confident that they can safely meet the sensitive needs of transgender prisoners.
This is the latest of Mr. Ponte’s many reforms since he was appointed head of the DOC in April. He has also redesigned correction officer training programs, and updated the officers’ Use of Force policy.