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California female prison guards required to strip-search transgender inmates

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California female prison guards are required by prison policy to strip search individuals who have transitioned from men to women, according to a report from National Review.

“Incarcerated individuals who are transgender, non-binary, or intersex must be searched according to the gender designation of the institution where they are housed or based on the individual’s search preference,” says the California Institution for Men policy adopted in 2021.

Previously, female prison officers were not allowed to strip-search naked male inmates except in emergency circumstances. Under the policy, individuals at men’s prisons who have transitioned to women can request that they only be strip-searched by women.

In the report, National Review interviewed two female prison guards, one who was traumatized from being required to search the genitals of a transgender inmate, and another who was disciplined before the 2021 policy for searching a male inmate suspected by her colleague of having contraband.

Paula James, a recently retired corrections officer who served for 22 years, cried over the phone as she shared her traumatization at being forced to conduct an intimate search, saying, “I didn’t feel comfortable about it, but I had to do my job … I had been taught all that time that I wasn’t supposed to do that.”

Another female officer, who spoke anonymously for fear of retribution, recalled “highest possible level of disciplinary action from her superiors” for searching a male inmate.

“Back in 2017, it was two male inmates, but now here we are seven years later, and they want me, if I’m given a direct order, I must strip out that trans inmate,” the officer said. “What’s the difference from when I stripped out that male inmate to now? It’s still a man.”

Under Senate Bill 132 by State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, prisons must use prisoner’s requested pronouns, house prisoners in gendered facilities based on prisoners’ requests, and search prisoners with officers of the gender requested by prisoners. Governor Gavin Newsom signed the bill into law in late 2020.

California has been required to provide transgender inmates with gender surgeries since 2015, when a court ordered the state’s correctional system to provide “adequate medical care, including sex reassignment surgery … as promptly as possible.”

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