How do Virginia jails and prisons handle transgender inmates?

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. — News 3 is learning more details about the person accused of stabbing and killing her father, a well-known Virginia Beach dentist, earlier this summer.

In June, Norah Horwitz was arrested and charged with Dr. Abbey Horwitz’s death.

At the time of her arrest, Virginia Beach Police said Norah Horwitz was in the process of transitioning.

Recently, News 3 confirmed with a Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office (VBSO) spokesperson that she’s been placed in protective custody in a single cell in one of the men’s housing units at the Virginia Beach Correctional Center.

The spokesperson also confirmed with News 3 that this came after Horwitz was initially placed on suicide watch on direct observation.


Virginia Beach dentist stabbed to death, his child appears in court: Police

Penny Kmitt

1:02 PM, Jun 05, 2023

This case prompted News 3’s team of investigators to look into how jails and prisons in Virginia handle transgender inmates.

Tarena Williams helps many, like her, at the Southeastern Transgender Resource Center in Norfolk.

“I just want people to feel comfortable,” Williams told News 3. “I think this is the best lifestyle that you can live. But, at the end of the day, it still is a hard lifestyle.”

She said she has worked directly with many transgender people who’ve spent time behind bars.

“They all have expressed to me that the jail system is just not where you want to go,” she said.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has collected data on transgender inmates. Its data from 2015 shows an estimated 35 percent of transgender inmates in prisons and 34 percent in jails experienced one or more incidents of sexual victimization by another inmate or facility staff in the past 12 months, or since being admitted.

News 3 sat down with a Norfolk transgender woman, who said she previously spent time in jails throughout Virginia. She requested that News 3 not reveal her identity for this story.

“No one crossed the line inappropriately,” she said. “It’s in a place where you begin to mask to cover pain and hurt. So, I became what I didn’t want to be in order to get through it.”

She said, in one instance, she was placed in a male housing unit.

“I would joke and have fun, jesting,” the woman said. “If I’m joking and I’m jesting, and I’m able to get along, that just kind of makes a barrier for me. It gives me protection.”

News 3 also looked into the U.S. Transgender Survey, the largest survey looking at the experiences of transgender people nationwide, conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality.

The most recent survey, conducted in 2015 with more than 27,000 respondents, states nearly one-quarter (23%) of respondents who were incarcerated were physically assaulted by staff or other inmates, and one in five (20%) were sexually assaulted.

It also goes on to say that respondents were more than five times more likely to be sexually assaulted by facility staff than the U.S. population in jails and prisons, and more than nine times more likely to be sexually assaulted by other inmates.

“It proves more about how in danger the trans population is when you are incarcerated,” said Josie Caballero, Director of the U.S. Transgender Survey. “A lot of this has to do with inmates being put in the wrong jails and prisons.”

Caballero believes the survey is a push for policy change.

“We really need to underscore the urgency of these policy changes to ensure that when a trans person has to go to incarceration, that we at least put that trans person in the prison of where the gender identification is, whether and how they self-identify,” she said. “If we don’t, you’re putting that person, statistically, in the lines of harm.”

News 3 also wanted to know what policies were in place, not just for state facilities, but also for local jails in Hampton Roads.

The Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) did not want to be interviewed on the subject of transgender inmates. However, a spokesperson sent News 3 a statement stating the department’s practices for transgender inmates are addressed at an individual level.

VADOC’s spokesperson added that an inmate’s physical gender at the time of entry into VADOC custody determines the facility assignment, and the department follows all guidelines set forth under the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA).

Signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2003, DOJ officials said PREA’s goal is to eliminate prisoner rape in all types of correctional facilities in the United States.

The Bureau of Justice Assistance, as a result of PREA, created the Protecting Inmates and Safeguarding Communities Program in the 2004 fiscal year, DOJ officials added.

DOJ officials explained the program’s priorities are to help states and local jurisdictions, “ensuring that budget cuts don’t compromise efforts to protect inmates and to safeguard communities upon the inmate’s reentry.”

News 3 also reached out to all sheriff’s offices in the Seven Cities, and received the following responses back from cities regarding transgender inmate policies:

Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office

A spokesperson with the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office sent the following statement to News 3:

We are legally required to house male and female inmates separately, based on their biological sex. The security of the facility and the safety and welfare of the inmate are our primary considerations when determining where they should be housed. We use an objective screening instrument to determine housing, which evaluates numerous criteria, including the person’s physical build, whether they have been a victim of sexual abuse, their own perception of their vulnerability, and whether they are or appear to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex or gender non-confirming. The same objective screening instrument is used to determine housing for all inmates. Our Classification deputies are trained to screen and house inmates to ensure the safety and security of the facility, the inmates and the staff. That training includes how to legally and appropriately house transgender people. We prioritize the safety of every individual inmate as well as the other inmates they are housed with, which is why housing has to be determined by biological sex, rather than how someone identifies. We also cannot automatically house someone in isolation because they are transgender, which the courts has ruled unconstitutional. So we have to base their housing on the complete set of facts (which includes biological sex, age, charges, criminal history, gang affiliation, etc.). We want that person – and every person housed with them – to be safe.”

Suffolk Police Dept.

A spokesperson with the Suffolk Police Dept. sent this statement to News 3:

“It is always the goal of the Suffolk Police Department to treat each and every citizen we encounter with dignity and respect. As we in many cases are required to take police action that at times requires custodial arrests, we continue to work to ensure that our actions maintain the highest level of dignity and respect we can provide based on the situation.

When it comes to interaction with transgender individuals, we document them based on their legal name in order to comply with FBI reporting requirements and the court’s requirements. However, we train our officers to use the citizen’s preferred name and pronouns during the interaction. Arrestees are almost universally kept separate from one another while in our custody so there are very few privacy concerns with regard to other arrestees. None of our holding areas are gender specific. When it comes to searches incident to arrests, the arresting officer is required to conduct that search, however, policy allows an arrestee to request an officer of their own sex to conduct the search if one is available.

Once we complete our investigation and take them to the Magistrate, we swear the warrant out based on their legal name and they are booked into Western Tidewater Regional Jail (WTRJ) based on the WTRJ policies and practices. Specific questions regarding booking and housing transgender individuals at WTRJ would have to be directed to them.”

Norfolk Sheriff’s Office

An NSO spokesperson referred News 3 to the their PREA policy on their website.

Newport News Sheriff’s Office

A spokesperson for the Newport News Sheriff’s Office sent the following policies to News 3:

Use of Screening Information

Classification shall use information from the risk screening required by 115.41 to make housing, bed, work, education, and program assignments with the goal of keeping separate those inmates at high risk of being sexually victimized from those at high risk of being sexually abusive.

Classification shall make individualized determinations about how to ensure the safety of each inmate.

1. Transgender or Intersex Inmate

In deciding whether to assign a transgender or intersex inmate to a facility for male or female, inmates, and in making other housing and programming assignments, classification shall consider on a case-by-case basis whether a placement would ensure the inmate’s health and safety, and whether the placement would present management or security problems.

Placement and programming assignments for each transgender or intersex inmate shall be reassessed at least twice each year to review any threats to safety experienced by the inmate.

A transgender or intersex inmate’s own views with respect to his or her own safety shall be given serious consideration.

Transgender and intersex inmates shall be given the opportunity to shower separately from other inmates.

Classification shall not place lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex inmates in dedicated facilities, units, or wings solely on the basis of such identification or status, unless such placement is in a dedicated facility, unit, or wing established in connection with a consent decree, legal settlement, or legal judgment for the purpose of protecting such inmates.

Screening for Risk of Victimization and Abusiveness

All inmates shall be assessed during an intake screening for their risk of being sexually abused by other inmates or sexually abusive toward other inmates.

1. 72 Hours

Intake screening shall ordinarily take place within 72 hours of arrival at the facility.

2. Assessments

Assessments shall be conducted using an objective screening instrument.

3. Criteria

The intake screening shall consider, at a minimum, the following criteria to assess inmates for risk of sexual victimization:

  • Whether the inmate has a mental, physical, or developmental disability
  • The age of the inmate
  • The physical build of the inmate
  • Whether the inmate has previously been incarcerated
  • Whether the inmate’s criminal history is exclusively nonviolent
  • Whether the inmate has prior convictions for sex offenses against an adult or child
  • Whether the inmate is or is perceived to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex, or gender nonconforming
  • Whether the inmate has previously experienced sexual victimization
  • The inmate’s own perception of vulnerability
  • Whether the inmate is detained solely for civil immigration purposes.
  • Prior acts of sexual abuse
  • Prior convictions for violent offenses
  • History of prior institutional violence or sexual abuse, as known to the agency, in assessing inmates for risk of being sexually abusive.

4. Reassessment

Within a set time period, not to exceed 30 days from the inmate’s arrival at the jail, classification will reassess the inmate’s risk of victimization or abusiveness based upon any additional, relevant information received by the facility since the intake screening.

An inmate’s risk level shall be reassessed when warranted due to a referral, request, incident of sexual abuse, or receipt of additional information that bears on the inmate’s risk of sexual victimization or abusiveness.

5. Inmates May Not Be Disciplined for Refusing to Answer

Inmates may not be disciplined for refusing to answer, or for not disclosing complete information in response to the check-marked questions asked in section 3.

6. Dissemination within The Facility

In order to ensure that sensitive information is not exploited to the inmate’s detriment by staff or other inmates; responses to questions asked pursuant to this standard shall only be disseminated within the facility to employees in a need to know position.

Chesapeake Sheriff’s Office

A spokesperson with the Chesapeake Sheriff’s Office sent this statement to News 3:

“The Chesapeake Correctional Center is overseen by the Virginia Department of Corrections and therefore adheres to its policies about housing transgender inmates. PREA (the Prison Rape Elimination Act) standards prohibit the automatic placement of inmates into involuntary segregation, specific housing units, or special housing for vulnerable inmates based solely on their gender identity. Meaning unless we have reason to think an individual would be especially vulnerable, we must house transgender inmates in the general population based on their physical sex.

We use a booking questionnaire (completed during intake) to identify who may be at an elevated risk of sexual victimization. We look at each case individually to see if special management or restrictive housing is appropriate. This is determined by our PREA Compliance Manager, Classification staff, and medical staff based on a number of factors including: the inmate’s physical gender, their sexual abuse risk assessment, the inmate’s fears, any current safety/security concerns, and an assessment by mental health and medical personnel.

This policy is for the safety and security of not only the individual inmate but also all individuals in our facility.”

Meanwhile, the Biden administration announced strengthening protections for transgender inmates.

White House officials said, last year, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) revised its manual on serving transgender offenders, improving access to gender-affirming care and access to facility placements that align with an inmate’s gender identity.

When looking at policies, those like Williams in our local transgender community believe equity and personal safety are vital.

“When you’re incarcerated, it’s something that you did the crime, you have to do the time. But, at the end of the day, it shouldn’t be where we’re threatened,” she said. “When you help us, we help you.”

Caballero told News 3 she and others conducted a new U.S. Transgender Survey in 2022, the first since 2015.

She said she hopes to see the first glimpses of its findings later this year.


Sign up to receive the latest local, national & international Criminal Justice News in your inbox, everyday.

We don’t spam! Read our [link]privacy policy[/link] for more info.

Sign up today to receive the latest local, national & international Criminal Justice News in your inbox, everyday.

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

This post was originally published on this site be sure to check out more of their content.