Monday Morning Thoughts: Bourne’s Arguments about Transgender in Prisons Not Supported by Available Data

Protest for Trans Rights, Humphrey Building, Washington, DC USA (June, 2020) by Ted Eytan, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

For the past several days, the Vanguard has run a series of articles from Vera Institute of Justice featuring first-hand accounts of five transgender people in prison.  In addition, next Monday, the Vanguard will run our interview with Angie Gordon, a transwoman currently serving in a male prison.

I asked Angie why she decided to stay in a male prison and she explained that she feels safer there.  More on that next week.

On Facebook, however, Beth Bourne, a local leader with Moms 4 Liberty, which has attempted to push back on transgender issues, posted a highly misleading comment.

Bourne writes: “Most trans identifying men incarcerated in women’s prisons are there for sexual assault and rape charges. It’s cruel and unusual punishment for women to be raped and assaulted by male inmates in CA prisons. Sex in humans is binary and immutable. It’s impossible to change your sex. Get men out of women’s prisons.”

As far as I can tell, this is completely false.

When I asked Bourne about her comment, Bourne pointed me towards two articles, one a Blog post that links to the OIG report on the CDCR adherence to a new California law and the other, a CalMatters article, “More California prisoners are requesting gender-affirming health care, including surgeries.”

The CalMatters article notes, “Transgender advocates also are on guard for signs that the state is refusing transfers for inmates who identify as transgender but have not received gender-affirming medical care.”

“Incarcerated people are not required to have gender affirming surgery in order to transfer to an institution consistent with their gender identity,” Hardy wrote in an email to CalMatters.

That may be the letter of the law, but it’s not necessarily the practice of CDCR.

The complaint from supporters of transgender rights is that California Prisons are actually failing to uphold transgender rights despite state law (see the KQED expose from last October).

Under the Transgender Respect, Agency and Dignity Act: “It allows those incarcerated people to select a gender preference for the guards who search them. Most significantly, it mandates that prison officials, under most circumstances, honor requests to be housed at the type of facility — male or female — that aligns with the incarcerated person’s gender identity.”

But that’s not what’s happening.

From the Inspector General report: “In the two years since the Act was implemented, the department has conducted only 55 gender-based transfer hearings.”

The CalMatters article, from June 2023, reported, “The agency also has received over 364 housing transfer requests since 2021. Only 35 of those were approved and sent to the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla.”

The article continued, “Advocates for transgender and nonbinary inmates have urged the state to move faster in providing the surgeries and evaluating other inmates’ requests to transfer to facilities that better suit their needs.”

The problem then is that there have hardly been any transfers at all.

Bourne is charging that CDCR is approving transfers for people incarcerated for sexual assault and rape charges—but there is no evidence to support that.  In fact, given the extremely limited number of requests that have been approved, it seems unlikely that CDCR would approve requests for people with a history of sexual assault.

As the Inspector General noted, “Incarcerated people who request a transfer under the Act are recommended for approval or denied at a hearing following an extensive review of their entire criminal and administrative disciplinary history.”

That would seem to mitigate against the concerns expressed by Bourne—but Bourne isn’t just expressing concerns, Bourne is arguing this is happening.  Again, there is no evidence of that.

Indeed, the very OIG report noted, “The department properly investigated or responded to all allegations of consensual sexual misconduct and sexual assaults we reviewed. None of the incidents of sexual assault alleged rape or attempted rape, and most alleged that a transferee either touched another incarcerated person in an unwanted sexual manner or forced someone to touch them in an unwanted manner. The department did not substantiate any allegations of sexual assault. In contrast, the department sustained numerous allegations of consensual sexual misconduct between transferees and other incarcerated people at CCWF and CIW.”

The charge that massive transfers (not happening) of people who committed sexual assaults (not happening) is leading to sexual assaults of women is simply not happening.

Moreover, there is some evidence that only incarcerated transgender people with bottom surgery are being transferred—contrary to state law.

Bourne responded: “Men are more violent. You don’t need a penis to sexually assault and rape a woman.”

The irony of course is that there are data to show a high level of sexual assault involving transgender people in prison.  However, they are the victims, not the perpetrators.

A Department of Justice study found that, nationally, trans individuals report having been the victims of sexual assault while incarcerated at a rate ten times higher than non-trans prisoners.

A study conducted in California prisons found that trans women housed in male-designated facilities report having been the victims of sexual assault while incarcerated at a rate thirteen times higher than male prisoners.

A congressional study found that prison rape often goes unreported, and that most prison staff are not adequately trained or prepared to prevent, report or treat sexual assaults.

In 2013, Carmen Guerrero, a trans woman incarcerated at Kern Valley State Prison, was murdered by her cellmate only nine hours after she was forced into the cell with her killer by prison staff against her will.

In 2017 at Valley State Prison, an incarcerated trans woman was found dead in her cell, a pencil lodged into her ear and neck; subsequently, the local district attorney’s office declined to pursue the case as a murder, claiming a lack of sufficient evidence.

But of course none of this fits Beth Bourne’s narrative and it really does not appear that Bourne has read the articles that are posted on social media support their position.

There are of course legitimate concerns voiced by women incarcerated—women who are vulnerable to begin with and many who have suffered sexual assault outside of prison and many who will be assaulted in prison as often by staff as well as by fellow incarcerated people.

Overall safety conditions in prisons are deplorable and we need to take this issue far more seriously.  There are legitimate debates to be have over what is the best policy for CDCR, but it does not help things to seemingly make up claims whole cloth in order to generate fear.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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1 Comment

  1. Sharla Cheney

    Beth seems to have developed a list of beliefs regarding transgenderism.  Her base belief, it seems, is that there is no such thing – there are two sexes and genders.  Her focus is most intensely targeted toward transgender women and girls, who she states are a threat to women and girls – that these are men and boys who merely say they are transgender to get access to women and invade their spaces for nefarious purposes or maybe to earn medals and awards in sports.  She rarely complains about transgender men or their motivations.  Rather, these people she describes as victims of the “gender ideology” and the “lucrative gender affirming medical industry”, all which happens without parents knowledge or permission apparently.  She has restricted her reading and research to support these beliefs and will often post something because of a headline, but clearly without reading the article.  When someone puts forth information or a study countering her assertions, she either repeats old posts, or often poses a fictitious scenario that no reasonable person would support and asks if they think that is OK, or claims that she doesn’t understand the article.  I don’t think she reads the study or article beyond the headline.  It appears that there are sources that feed her information that she willingly parrots in her social media.  An example is her sudden criticism of developer contributions in local elections (where have we heard that before?).

    Davis is full of smart, educated people who are willing to hear her out, but can be counted on to look further.

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