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Colorado plans to create special housing units for transgender women in prisons

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

By early next year, Colorado plans to create special housing units in two prisons just for transgender women. This is part of a new legal settlement. Experts say these dedicated voluntary spaces for trans inmates are the first in the U.S. Colorado Public Radio's Andrea Dukakis reports.

ANDREA DUKAKIS, BYLINE: Taliyah Murphy is one of the plaintiffs who served time in a men's prison in Colorado until she was released in 2020. She says trans women like her were especially vulnerable to abuse.

TALIYAH MURPHY: The misgendering, the strip searches from male staff and then just getting the necessary medical care.

DUKAKIS: Other plaintiffs report more extreme violations, like sexual and physical violence. Under a recent settlement agreement, transgender women may choose to live in a special transitional unit at one of the men's prisons. Others may request to be placed directly into a new unit for transgender women at the Denver Women's Facility. And some may ask to go straight into that facility's general population. A committee of prison and health experts will decide on placement. Attorney Scott Medlock represents the transgender women who sued Colorado. He acknowledges there is some concern about housing trans women with cisgender women, but...

SCOTT MEDLOCK: The system will help out not only the transgender women in custody but also the cisgender women who are already in the women's prisons and the staff so that everybody can see that the sky won't fall.

DUKAKIS: Until now, states have taken more of an ad hoc approach to housing transgender women in prison. Wanda Bertram is with the Prison Policy Initiative, an advocacy group. She says these voluntary housing units will be a first in the country, though possibly not the last.

WANDA BERTRAM: I would assume that this is going to set some precedent that other states can follow. But you kind of have to wait until it's fully implemented to see, is this a success that other states can emulate?

DUKAKIS: In Colorado, Medlock says some trans women have already been successfully integrated into the women's facility. He says now it's time to expand that in a more thoughtful way. For NPR News, I'm Andrea Dukakis.

(SOUNDBITE OF HIT-BOY AND RAPSODY SONG, "ASTEROIDS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Andrea Dukakis
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