Public Advocate Calls For Gender Equity, Justice For Incarcerated Individuals In Council Hearing

April 27th, 2021

Press Release

Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams called for a series of reforms aimed at gender equity and justice for incarcerated women and other TGNCNB individuals at a joint hearing of the City Council Committees on Criminal Justice and Women and Gender Equity Tuesday morning.

"As the population of incarcerated women, including trans women, continues to grow we as a City must challenge ourselves to ensure their humanity, safety, and particular needs are met," said Public Advocate Williams. He expressed support for several bills from Council Member Helen Rosenthal, including ones requiring comprehensive training and tracking for investigation of sexual abuse in jails, arguing that "Jails are unique in that staff and those incarcerated are the only witnesses. We know that underreporting of sexual assault and abuse is common, due to fear and intimidation survivors may feel. We must create trusted processes, comprehensive training, and proper investigations, in order to encourage women to come forward."

On a bill to provide doula and midwife services for pregnant individuals in DOC custody, he said in support of the legislation that "Support from doulas help reduce caesarean sections, which are often used for Black mothers even when unnecessary, and anesthesia use. Women assisted by doulas also report lower preterm births. Being pregnant in a DOC facility is a harrowing experience as seen with the latest settlement for a Black woman who was shackled during pregnancy by police. These individuals are treated as prisoners first. Meanwhile, these individuals are expected to negotiate with DOC for accommodations."

Public Advocate Williams further raised issues faced by the TGNCNB community in city jails, asking "We must make sure, in the face of oppression and violence, that there are resources available for those in the TGNCNB community... Correctional Health Services offers hormone therapy for anyone who requests it. However, this policy is unclear. Is there appropriate access to it? Are individuals given information related to its access & availability when detained? How many individuals undergo hormone therapy? How many requests are there per quarter? These are some of the questions should be answered and clarified. " He also reiterated his call for a true end to solitary confinement in practice rather than in name.

Read the full statement from Public Advocate below.

TESTIMONY OF PUBLIC ADVOCATE JUMAANE D. WILLIAMS

TO THE COMMITTEE ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND COMMITTEE ON WOMEN & GENDER EQUITY - OVERSIGHT HEARING

APRIL 27, 2021

Good morning,

As mentioned my name is Jumaane D. Williams, Public Advocate for the City of New York. I just want to thank Chair Powers, Chair Diaz, and Council Member Rosenthal for their passion and leadership.

Many, if not all structures and institutions have been built with the needs and experiences of cisgender men in mind. Jails are no different. As the population of incarcerated women, including trans women, continues to grow we as a City must challenge ourselves to ensure their humanity, safety, and particular needs are met. In the last quarter of FY 2020 the number of women detained at DOC facilities was 155, that rose to 253 persons by the end of December that year. I am deeply concerned about this increase, particularly during a pandemic, and urge the administration to ensure every resource available is used to limit the number of people that are being incarcerated in the first place.

The bills being heard today, all sponsored by Council Member Rosenthal, seek to address the experiences of incarcerated women. Intro. No. 1656 would require a comprehensive training program for sex crime investigations and Intro. No. 1491 would track the investigation of sexual abuse. In the last six months of 2020, seven trans women reported sexual abuse and harassment. Each of those stories reflect an experience trapped within jail walls. Each experience shows how the power dynamic in jails can be uneven. Of course, no one should abuse this power but statistics show otherwise. Jails are unique in that staff and those incarcerated are the only witnesses. We know that underreporting of sexual assault and abuse is common, due to fear and intimidation survivors may feel. We must create trusted processes, comprehensive training, and proper investigations, in order to encourage women to come forward. I support these bills, and suggest that the investigation training program incorporate social workers and trauma-informed counselors.

The last bill, Intro. No. 1209, would provide doula and midwife services for pregnant individuals in DOC custody. Support from doulas help reduce caesarean sections, which are often used for Black mothers even when unnecessary, and anesthesia use. Women assisted by doulas also report lower preterm births. Being pregnant in a DOC facility is a harrowing experience as seen with the latest settlement for a Black woman who was shackled during pregnancy by police. These individuals are treated as prisoners first. Meanwhile, these individuals are expected to negotiate with DOC for accommodations. I support Intro. No. 1209 as the burden should not fall upon these individuals. Rather, DOC should offer these services that recognize humanity without hesitation.

We must also focus on people who identify as trans, non-binary, and/or gender non-conforming in jail. Entering into the cycle of incarceration is dangerous, and it is difficult to escape from it. In the second quarter of this fiscal year, the number of people who identify as trans, intersex, or non-binary was 39. The fourth quarter of fiscal year 2020 only reported for people who identified as trans, which was 21. The increase may stem from a change in definition. Anyone who is incarcerated can enter into the cycle of incarceration even after leaving jail, which is especially impactful for trans, gender non-conforming, and non-binary people. This is particularly alarming during a time when we are seeing so many anti-trans bills introduced across the country at a rate never seen before. It is alarming during a time when at least 10 trans people have been killed so far this year. We must make sure, in the face of oppression and violence, that there are resources available for those in the TGNCNB community.

Take hormone therapy for example. Correctional Health Services offers hormone therapy for anyone who requests it. However, this policy is unclear. Is there appropriate access to it? Are individuals given information related to its access & availability when detained? How many individuals undergo hormone therapy? How many requests are there per quarter? These are some of the questions should be answered and clarified.

Moreover, DOC's Special Considerations Unit raises concerns. In the second half of 2020, 18 applicants requesting to be transferred into this area, designated for TGNCNB people, were rejected. The agency must offer an explanation for rejection, which is not always given. Rejection can mean a higher likelihood of sexual assault or physical violence for individuals. DOC must clarify why these applications are rejected because of the danger of not being appropriately housed.

Finally, we must make sure of a plan to eliminate solitary confinement. Earlier this month, the Governor signed the HALT Solitary bill. It is the City's turn to end solitary confinement. The proposed rules from DOC do not appear to go far enough. There are serious issues with them that my Office raised at a recent BOC public hearing. Instead, we need to pass legislation to eliminate the practice and introduce plans to separate individuals without depending on isolation. It is the right option, especially two years after the death of Layleen Polanco.

I appreciate today's discussion as it is difficult to escape from the cycle of incarceration. Women and people in the TGNCNB community should have resources and opportunities to avoid incarceration. It is up to us to make sure of that. I really thank the Chairs and Council Members for allowing me to speak, and I look forward to today's testimony.

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