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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Prisoners and allies group releases hard-hitting report on LGBTQ prisoners
by Gretchen Rachel Hammond
2015-11-05

This article shared 4499 times since Thu Nov 5, 2015
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The 10-year-old Boston-based nationwide network of current and former LGBTQ prisoners and their "free-world" allies Black and Pink released the report "Coming Out of Concrete Closets" on Oct. 20.

The almost 70-page document is the product of the largest survey yet to be conducted with LGBTQ prisoners.

More than 1,100 incarcerated people took part by answering more than 130 questions from demographic information to experiences during trial, imprisonment and parole.

Among the report's key findings, 58 percent of respondent's first arrest occurred when they were under 18-years of age. For Black and Latino/a individuals, that number increased to 66 percent. The report also stated that they "were more likely to have experienced multiple incarcerations than their white counterparts."

While the average amount of time an LGBTQ individual spends in prison is ten years, they are "twice as likely to be serving life sentences than the general state and federal prison populations" and "all over-represented in higher security facilities. White respondents were nearly twice as likely as Black respondents to be held in minimum security prisons."

While incarcerated, 85 percent of those surveyed reported spending time in solitary confinement with nearly half having "spent over two years in isolation."

Often, that means placement in a cell for 23 hours-per-day with little or no access to sunlight—an act the United Nations Committee on Torture called "unacceptable."

In 2011, then UN Special Rapporteur on torture Juan E. Méndez declared that "indefinite and prolonged solitary confinement in excess of 15 days should also be subject to an absolute prohibition"

A 2012 statement from the Human Rights Watch to the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights noted that "people suffer grievously in prolonged solitary confinement because human beings are social animals whose well-being requires interaction and connection with others as well as mental, physical, and environmental stimulation."

For transgender, gender nonbinary and Two-Spirit respondents to the Black and Pink survey, grievous suffering while incarcerated is simply a way-of-life.

"Seventy-eight percent experienced emotional pain from hiding their gender identity during incarceration/throughout their interactions with the criminal legal system," the report stated. "While an overwhelming 44 percent report being denied access to hormones they requested."

Despite the 2003 passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act ( PREA ) the survey's respondents "were four times more likely to be sexually assaulted than the general prison population. 100 percent of prisoners have experienced sexual violence by prison staff. The vast majority of respondents experienced discrimination and verbal harassment by prison staff and more than a third were physically assaulted by prison staff."

Among its short and long term recommendations, Black and Pink wants to see the practice of stop-and-frisk eliminated from all municipalities. "Evidence shows that stop-and-frisk practices discriminate on the basis of race and also disproportionately target LGBTQ people," the report stated.

The organization also demands an end to "quality of life" policing which includes decriminalizing sex-work and drug possession. "Our findings contribute to the wealth of research that shows LGBTQ people disproportionately experience homelessness, trade sex for survival needs, struggle with addiction, and live with mental illness, all of which are all criminalized under "Quality of Life" policies."

Long term, Black and Pink believe the abolishment of police forces, the court system and ultimately the closure of all prisons and jails in favor of "community-based solutions" to harm and violence and a more "transformative justice model" will "create healing and prevent violence before it occurs."

Rev. Jason Lydon is the founder and national director of Black and Pink, and served as lead author of the report.

"After I got out of prison, I wanted to stay connected with people who had looked out for me and I wanted to look out for them," he told Windy City Times. "There were essentially no resources that I could find for LGBTQ folks who were incarcerated so I started writing letters to people I'd been locked up with."

Lydon's idea took hold and exponentially flourished into a nationally networked grassroots organization with eight chapters across the country.

Today, Lydon says that Black and Pink reaches almost 9,000 LGBTQ prisoners every month via a newsletter and letter-writing campaigns. While constantly working towards the goal of "the abolition of the prison industrial complex" through the formations of multiple coalitions and shaping policy efforts on local and federal level, he said Black and Pink remains committed to lifting the voices of imprisoned LGBTQ people, particularly those of color.

"We see the constant inequities in experiences for people of color in arrests, solitary confinement and HIV transmission rates. They are incredibly visible in the survey," Lydon said. "Solitary confinement is torture. People are reporting mental health struggles, hallucinating, hearing things. One of the realities is solitary confinement creates these illnesses by facilitating trauma to the brain and people have long term, detrimental effects. There are people who are doing years at a time. There were multiple folks in the report were held in solitary for ten-years continuously."

Lydon added that in Louisiana's Angola state prison, there were individuals who spent a "total of 22 years each in solitary."

The practice disproportionately targets gay men and transgender women. "Fifty percent of those who have experienced solitary confinement were put there for their own protection but against their will," the report stated.

One respondent wrote, "I was placed in solitary after being raped ... only released after it drove me to a suicide attempt."

Lydon believes that PREA is an "incredibly flawed piece of legislation on the national level. Not only is PREA ineffective, he said, but it actually creates harm for LGBTQ prisoners. What we are seeing, in cases of transgender women in particular, are people being disciplined for PREA violations for simple things like holding hands and hugging," he added.

"PREA is being used as a tool to control, regulate and discipline LGBTQ prisoners," Lydon continued. "We're going to see significant drops in parole rates for LGBTQ prisoners because they're going to come up to the parole board and have a slew of disciplinary tickets for PREA violations highlighting them as sexually dangerous people. This puts them at greater risk of being denied parole by a board that already discriminates against LGBTQ people."

When prison staff violates PREA guidelines, such as the mandate against cross-gender strip searches, there is little or no action taken against them, Lydon said. "PREA only mildly regulates how strip searches should be done," he said. "A [female] prisoner is going to be told that in order to access a particular program or to go on a visit, there is only a male guard to search her. So the [PREA] strip search regulations are not being enforced."

Lydon stated that he has not heard of any positive outcomes from a prisoner making a PREA complaint against a guard.

While Black and Pink's report has already been widely disseminated to press outlets and advocacy organizations, Lydon noted that it will eventually get into the hands of legislators.

"We will be bringing the report to Congress hopefully during a sit down to push things in a federal level," Lydon stated. "We will certainly be seeing the report showing up in local work that our chapters are doing."

The organization will also be extending its reach to those held in Immigration Customs Enforcement facilities and county jails.

For more information about Black and Pink, visit BlackAndPink.org .


This article shared 4499 times since Thu Nov 5, 2015
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