News (USA)

Mississippi inmates may get to sue prisons if they’re jailed with trans people

a woman in prison
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A bill advancing through the Mississippi legislature may soon allow inmates in the state to sue prisons if they are housed with someone who is transgender.

Last week, state lawmakers advanced HB 585, out of a House committee, the Associated Press (AP) reported. The so-called “Dignity and Safety for Incarcerated Women Act” would require restrooms, changing rooms, and sleeping quarters in Mississippi prisons to be segregated by sex, which the bill defines as a “person’s biological sex, either male or female, as observed or clinically verified at birth.”

Under the proposed law, inmates who encounter “a person of the opposite sex” in those areas “designated for use only by members of one sex” will be able to sue the prisons in which they are incarcerated. The bill does not address inmates who are intersex, according to the AP.

Notably, HB 585’s sponsor, Mississippi Rep. Gene Newman (R), said the bill was written in part by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an influential anti-LGBTQ+ Christian legal organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated as a hate group. ADF regularly files legislation against any expansion of LGBTQ+ rights; ADF also helped overturn abortion rights nationwide.

Despite not being able to point to a single example of Mississippi prisons, which are already sex-segregated, forcing an inmate to share the kind of spaces specified in the bill with a person of a different sex, Newman said HB 585 is necessary.

“It gives the inmate a course of action,” Newman said. “Just watching things that’s happening around the country, I mean you’ve got girls sports. You’ve got men that are pretending to be women just to win. It’s going to happen in prison. Men shouldn’t be in with women. Period.”

A 2020 investigation by NBC News found that trans inmates are almost always housed according to the sex they were assigned at birth rather than their gender identity. Transgender inmates are particularly vulnerable to violence, harassment, and sexual assault. A 2011 survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality found that 35% of previously incarcerated trans people had faced harassment by other inmates while in prison, and 37% reported being harassed by correctional officers or staff.

HB 585 will next be considered by the full Mississippi House where Republicans hold the majority. If it passes, it will go before the state Senate, where Republicans currently hold a supermajority.

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