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California legislature passes bill protecting LGBT prisoners

SACRAMENTO – The California State Senate today passed the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Prisoner Safety Act, AB 633, in a 26-9 vote.

Sponsored by Equality California and introduced by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, the bill is designed to prevent violence against LGBT people in the state prison system.

“All people deserve basic protections — including those serving time in our state prisons,” Ammiano said. “No prisoner should fear for his or her life or be the target of abuse because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity.”

“Too often, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender prisoners are the victims of violence behind bars,” said Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California. “This important bill would help prevent brutal assaults against prisoners who are targeted due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The bill would require California to adopt the National Prisoner Rape Elimination Commission Standards, which were created by a bipartisan panel that studied the issue nationally. It would amend the Sexual Abuse in Detention Elimination Act (SADEA) of 2005 to include self-reported safety concerns related to sexual orientation and gender identity on the list of factors for consideration when classifying and housing prisoners. This list of factors currently includes age, type of offense and prior time served. The bill would also save the state money due to decreased litigation and healthcare expenses.

A recent study from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) found that 67 percent of LGBT inmates report being sexually assaulted by another inmate, a rate 15 times higher than the overall prison population. Another study by UC Irvine and commissioned by CDCR found that 69 percent of transgender inmates reported sexual victimization while incarcerated.

AB 633 was developed following a Senate Public Safety Committee meeting held in San Francisco in December 2008 that was chaired by Senator and former Majority Leader Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles.

The meeting, which was sponsored by Equality California along with Just Detention International, the Transgender Law Center, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Transgender, Gender Variant and Intersex Justice Project, exposed the dire issues facing LGBT people in California prisons in order to produce concrete solutions.

Previously approved by the State Assembly, the bill now heads to the governor’s office, which vetoed a similar bill last year.

To find out more information about EQCA's legislation, visit ww.eqca.org/legislation.