Justice Department reviewing policies on transgender inmates

Federal Priasons Transgender Inmates

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department is reviewing its policies on housing transgender inmates in the federal prison system after protections for transgender prisoners were rolled back in the Trump administration, The Associated Press has learned.

The federal Bureau of Prisons’ policies for transgender inmates were thrust into the spotlight this week after a leader of an Illinois anti-government militia group — who identifies as transgender — was sentenced to 53 years in prison for masterminding the 2017 bombing of a Minnesota mosque.

Emily Claire Hari, who was charged, tried and convicted as Michael Hari, was sentenced Monday for the bombing of Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minnesota. It will now be up to the Bureau of Prisons’ Transgender Executive Council — a group of psychology and correctional officials — to determine where to house Hari in a system of 122 federal prisons.

Under the Obama administration, the bureau's policies for transgender inmates — known as the Transgender Offender Manual — called for that council to “recommend housing by gender identity when appropriate.” That language was changed in the Trump administration to require the committee to “use biological sex as the initial determination.”

The Trump-era manual, which remains in effect, says the agency would assign an inmate to a facility based on identified gender only “in rare cases.” About 1,200 inmates — of the nearly 156,000 federal prisoners in the United States — identify as transgender, a Justice Department official said.

The prison transgender council, established in 2016, consists of about 10 people, including two psychologists, a psychiatrist and prison designation experts, a Justice Department official told the AP. The official was not authorized to speak publicly about the issue and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The council must consider an inmate’s health and safety, any potential history of disciplinary action and the security level of the federal prison where the inmate could be assigned. Other factors include staffing in prisons, and the programs or classes the inmate might need.