More California Prisoners Are Requesting Gender-Affirming Health Care, Including Surgeries

The number of California prisoners requesting gender-affirming health care more than doubled last year, and the state’s corrections agency expects the trend to continue even as the overall state inmate population is projected to decline.

The estimate comes from budget documents detailing the agency’s responsibilities for two groundbreaking policies the state adopted over the last seven years.

One, in 2017, made California the first state to set standards that would grant gender affirmation surgery to state prison inmates. It followed the state’s approval of surgery for a transgender woman serving a life sentence. She was later transferred to a women’s prison. 

The other, a 2021 law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, requires that every person upon entering prison be asked gender-specific questions to determine whether they should be housed in a men’s or women’s facility.

Since the changes took effect, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation found that the number of transgender, intersex and nonbinary inmates consistently grew each year, rising to 1,617 last year. That’s a 234% increase over 2017, according to the documents. 

“The vulnerable, transgender and transgender diverse population in CDCR has grown and continues to grow and there are enduring needs that need to be met,” Trisha Wallis, a department senior psychologist who specializes in gender healthcare, said during a budget committee hearing in March.

The agency this year sought a small boost in funding — $2.2 million — to provide the mandated care. The agency’ request was not controversial and moved through the Legislature without pushback this spring. Budget negotiations between Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature are expected to conclude this week. 

Wallis at the hearing said the program was originally meant to “address equitable access” to safe and optimal gender-affirming care, but she acknowledged that staff shortages led to treatment backlogs. 

Backlog grows for gender-affirming care

As of December, 20 inmates since 2017 had received gender-affirming surgery. Another 150 surgeries had been approved, but not completed, according to the budget documents. 

In the 2021-22 California government budget year,  270 inmates requested gender-affirming surgeries – up from 99 the previous year. 

The state projects 348 inmates will request gender-affirming treatment this year, and 462 next year. The corrections agency says its staff can evaluate no more than three requests each week.

The agency also has received over 364 housing transfer requests since 2021. Only 35 of those were approved and sent to the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla.

Advocates for transgender and nonbinary inmates have urged the state to move faster in providing the surgeries and evaluating other inmates’ requests to transfer to facilities that better suit their needs.

Some of them criticized the agency’s budget request, arguing the state’s $15 billion-a-year prison system already had plenty of money to carry out the policies.

“It’s ridiculous. $2 million for stuff they should already be doing?” said Alex Binsfeld, a policy analyst with TGI Justice Project, a San Francisco nonprofit that advocates for incarcerated transgender people. “I don’t think pumping any more money into CDCR is going to fix health care there.”

Transgender advocates also are on guard for signs that the state is refusing transfers for inmates who identify as transgender but have not received gender-affirming medical care. 

“Ultimately the housing question should not be a medical question,” said Jen Orthwein, a psychologist and lawyer who previously provided treatment to transgender inmates in prisons across California.

Terri Hardy, spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said those fears are unfounded. 

“Incarcerated people are not required to have gender affirming surgery in order to transfer to an institution consistent with their gender identity,” Hardy wrote in an email to CalMatters.

Lawsuit challenges California prison transfers

Outside of the Capitol, some conservative-leaning and feminist groups have opposed the prison agency’s gender affirming policies. 

The Women’s Liberation Front, a feminist advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., sued the state in 2021 to halt certain transfers to the state’s women’s prison in Chowchilla. It argued the transfers put female inmates at greater risk of violence and sexual assault. The lawsuit is playing out in the U.S. Eastern District Court of California.

“The reality that men and women are factually, materially, immutably different, in ways that disadvantage women and necessitate attention to women’s unique needs, supports  protection of incarcerated women by providing women-only correctional facilities,” the lawsuit reads.

The Transgender Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a brief challenging thatsuit. The two liberal organizations contend the 2021 law allowing prison transfers protects vulnerable transgender inmates. 

Several states have followed California in adopting genders-affirming policies for prisoners. Massachusetts and Connecticut allow prisoners to be transferred to facilities according to their chosen gender identity. New Jersey, New York City and Rhode Island also require that inmates be housed at facilities appropriate to their gender.

Orthwein, the psychologist, urged the state to accommodate more care.

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters

State’s Juvenile Prison Workers Score $50,000 Bonuses

Gov. Gavin Newsom and six labor unions have struck a deal to give up to $50,000 in bonuses to keep juvenile prison workers on the job, as first reported by CalMatters in March.

Between now and next year, California taxpayers will pay about $54.5 million for the incentive payments, according to estimates by the Department of Finance. 

The contracts represent one of the largest retention bonuses the state has ever offered to employees.

A finance department spokesperson said the agreements estimate that 1,019 direct care and 211 non-direct care employees will meet the criteria for some amount of bonus.

The Division of Juvenile Justice, which is overseen by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, is hoping the payments will help stave off worker shortages that have beset the agency since Newsom announced the division’s dismantling. All of California’s youth prisons are expected to close by June 30, 2023, sending youth offenders to county detention centers. The division is working to place juvenile justice employees in other state jobs inside the department. 

“The stipends … are part of a thoughtful and purposeful process to ensure consistency and public safety throughout the transition,” Vicky Waters, a spokesperson for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, told CalMatters in an email.

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters

CCPOA contract puts cash in prison guards’ wallets beyond raises

This article was originally published by The Sacramento Bee:

The latest tentative labor agreement with California’s correctional officers proves that there’s more than one way to boost employee compensation without calling it a “raise.”

While the new contract proposal for the 29,000 members of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association contains modest salary bumps, other provisions put more money in their pockets now and later by changing everything from fitness pay rules to making some paid leave count toward the threshold for overtime.

Salaries for union members last year totaled about $2.1 billion, not including another $350 million for overtime, leave cashouts and other special payments, according to data from the State Controller’s Office.

Read more by clicking here. 

Gov. Brown Walks the Budget Tightrope

jerry-brownGov. Jerry Brown has unveiled the highly-anticipated revision to his annual state budget, teeing up final spending negotiations in Sacramento — largely with his fellow Democrats.

Despite a resurgence in California’s fiscal fortunes, including tax receipts some $2 billion in excess of estimates, “analysts are warning that California could be headed for more fiscal headaches as soon as next year,” the Wall Street Journal observed. “The state is constitutionally required to spend more on public education as revenue increases. This year’s revenue will establish a spending base for next year, meaning it could be harder for the state to balance its budget if the state’s income declines.”

Brown has made his reputation as governor holding the line on spending against steady pressure from his left. But Brown’s own favorite projects, including California’s high-speed rail plan, received his unwavering support, even drawing money away from expenditures favored by activists.

A selective windfall

Now, Brown has chosen to walk the budget tightrope in a way that will encourage his more profligate allies. Beneficiaries of Brown’s revised budget were set to include poorer Californians, unlawful immigrants and college students, as the San Jose Mercury News reported:

“With billions in better-than-expected revenue, Brown unveiled a $115.3 billion general fund spending plan that creates the state’s first-ever ‘earned income tax credit’ and would pay for Medi-Cal for some immigrants living in the state illegally.”

Brown’s revision also slipped in the results of a long-belabored deal with UC President Janet Napolitano, “who had demanded tens of millions of dollars more for her system to stave off 5 percent tuition hikes in each of the next five years,” as the Mercury News recalled.

But the revised budget plan went well beyond those measures, touching policy areas that have bedeviled Brown throughout much of his time in office.

Prison reform

Brown, for instance, used the revision to forge ahead with reforms to California’s prison system, which has been a virtual albatross around his neck since the Supreme Court ordered the state to reduce its crowded incarcerated population.

As the Los Angeles Times reported, the new budget revision “calls for shrinking the number of inmates housed outside California in the next year by 4,000 — reducing related state spending by $73 million. As of this week, the state had a little more than 8,000 inmates in private prisons in Arizona, Mississippi and Oklahoma, and another 6,250 prisoners in contracted lockups within the state.”

According to the Times, the cuts became possible because of the impact of Proposition 47, which thinned prisons’ ranks largely by slashing penalties and jail time for drug-related offenses. As CalWatchdog previously reported, although relatively few donors fueled the measure, Prop. 47 won the support of a substantial majority of voters in November.

Mixed reactions

In what has become a hallmark of his tenure in office, reactions to Brown’s adjusted numbers mixed praise with criticism. “We applaud the governor for putting money back into the pockets of those who work hard every day and pay their taxes – it’s the right move,” remarked Assembly Republican Leader Kristin Olsen, R-Riverbank, according to the Sacramento Bee. But, she added, Brown’s tax credit “will not end widespread poverty. That’s why Assembly Republicans have offered straightforward solutions to reform education and support the modern economy so every Californian can boost their earnings and quality of life.”

From the other side of the aisle, some Democrats registered disappointment with the limitations of Brown’s agreement on school funding. “We are pleased UC students and their families will avoid paying higher tuition next year,” said Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles. “But CSU, the workhorse of our higher education system, has been shortchanged. We have to support both of our public institutions of higher learning to make sure college is accessible to as many Californians as possible.”

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