Story at a glance

  • The Federal Bureau of Prisons has updated its Transgender Offender Manual, removing Trump-era language that said housing designations should be based on “biological sex.”
  • In the updated manual, it is recommended that housing assignments be made with an individual’s gender identity, rather than their sex assigned at birth, in mind.
  • Under the new guidelines, BOP staff are also required to use inmates’ preferred pronouns, and a pathway to receive gender-affirming surgery while incarcerated has been cleared.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) this month quietly updated its policy on housing transgender inmates, removing language inserted under the Trump administration that weakened protections for trans individuals in federal custody.

The revised Transgender Offender Manual, released Jan. 13 by the BOP, rescinds the manual’s 2018 update, which, among other changes, replaced Obama-era guidelines recommending incarcerated individuals be housed based on gender identity with a mandate that inmates be housed based on “biological sex.”

The updated manual removes that requirement, meaning housing designations are no longer based solely on an individual’s anatomy. In making housing unit and programming assignments, a transgender or intersex inmate’s own views with respect to their safety must be given “serious consideration,” according to the manual.

The new guidelines also require BOP staff to use an inmate’s preferred pronouns, stating that “deliberately and repeatedly mis-gendering an inmate is not permitted,” and a process has been added by which an incarcerated individual may receive gender-affirming surgery.

Transgender inmates will also be given the opportunity to shower separately from other inmates when individual shower stalls are not available, according to the manual.

The updated manual “will hopefully help keep transgender people in its custody safe and provide access to life-saving healthcare including gender-affirming surgery,” Richard Saenz, a senior attorney at Lambda Legal, said Tuesday in a statement.

“This reaffirms the constitutional rights of incarcerated transgender people and should be an example for state prisons systems and local jails to do their duty to keep people in their custody safe,” he said.

The revised manual also requires BOP staff to complete a training program where they will be taught how to provide better treatment for trans inmates. The program will also enhance staff understanding of the increased risk of suicide, mental health issues and victimization of incarcerated trans people.

Incarcerated transgender people are nearly 10 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than the general prison population, according to a 2018 report by the National Center for Transgender Equality.