California's Female Prisoners Feel Threatened by Transgender Inmates. The State Doesn't Care.

Female inmates say guards have ignored reports of rape threats and sexual assault from biologically male prisoners

January 31, 2023

Female inmates in California's prisons have been sexually assaulted by male inmates who identify as women. In response, the state has tightened restrictions on biologically female prisoners.

Since 2021, California has allowed 47 male prisoners who identify as transgender or "nonbinary," many of whom do not even attempt to appear female, to transfer to women's prisons. While the state has not disclosed how many of these male transfers have attacked female prisoners, a legal challenge from female inmates reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon reveals the troubling real-world impact of California's progressive policy.

Faced with the prospect of unruly biologically male inmates, California prisons increased restrictions on movement in women's prisons. Guards now carry stronger pepper sprays for the times they need to break up unruly behavior. Women's prisons installed condom dispensers, a tacit admission that transgender inmates are raping female inmates. Female prisoners recount guards ignoring reports of sexual assault and rape threats from male inmates—and some say guards punished them for reporting the harassment.

As California's female inmates pay the price for the state's "inclusive" policy, the Biden administration is pushing a similar agenda at the federal level. In January 2022, the Department of Justice revived an Obama-era policy that encouraged prison officials to consider the "health and safety" of transgender prisoners when determining where to sentence them.

California Democrats used the same "health and safety" standard when they passed SB 132 in 2020. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D.) signed the bill into law that same year, officially allowing male prisoners to enter women's prisons. As the law took effect in January 2021, the Newsom administration ordered the mass distribution of condoms within women's prisons, on the assumption that the policy would lead to more sex behind bars.

According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, 1,679 inmates in the state's prison system said in 2021 that they were transgender, up from just 131 in 2014. A February 2021 report by the state senate notes that the corrections department "believes that the recent growth in the transgender inmate population is due to agency efforts" to transfer inmates based on their chosen "gender identity."

Though the law extends to all transgender prisoners, only biological males have had transfers approved so far. The state has not signed off on any of the 11 biological women who have requested transfers to male prisons. Forty-seven of the 342 males petitioning to enter one of the state's three female penitentiaries have been approved. Twenty have been denied, and 30 have dropped their requests.

Prior to the law's passage, the few male inmates who had undergone sex change operations were already incarcerated in female prisons, with no apparent issue. But in early 2021, female inmates suddenly found themselves cheek by jowl with unabashedly male inmates.

Krystal Gonzalez, one of four female inmates suing to overturn the law, testified that she received no recourse after one of the "transgender" prisoners sexually assaulted her. When she reported the abuse, guards would not even acknowledge that a man had committed the act, referring to him instead as a "transgender woman with a penis."

"This worsens my distress because I do not believe they can really evaluate my grievance if they are pretending that women can have penises," Gonzalez said. "This man violated me, and when the prison tries to tell me it was a woman, I feel violated again."

Other inmates say that prison guards seem to always side with biological men.

That was the experience of Sagal Sadiq, a biological female who identifies as a transgender man, who witnessed a 6'3" male transfer regularly leering at a female prisoner in the bathroom. Sadiq reported the offense to the guards, but they did nothing. When the leering inmate confronted Sadiq about the complaint, the guards responded by frisking Sadiq, the prisoner who was being spied on, and a third inmate who intervened on the victim's behalf. All three were then locked up in isolation.

Prisoners' "knowing that they will not only be unprotected, but also actively punished for reporting, is an effective way for the prison to reduce complaints that they don't want to deal with," Sadiq said.

Beyond the physical threats, women say the prison culture is generally tenser and they are losing their sense of community and cohesion. Security changes "limit what little freedom the women have in prison," said inmate Tomiekia Johnson, a complaint echoed by others.

A spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation denied that women's penitentiaries have made any security changes since the law took effect. She also said that officials do not track which sex offenders in their custody are transgender.

In a 2022 public record obtained by the Free Beacon, however, the Corrections Department states that a high number of California's self-described transgender inmates seeking transfer are sexual predators. One-third of the 287 men applying for women's prisons were registered sex offenders, while a quarter had been convicted of sexual crimes. The spokeswoman did not offer comment on these data.

As female prisoners fight for their safety, Democratic lawmakers defend their law. California attorney general Rob Bonta (D.) dismissed female prisoners suing to overturn the law as "offended observers" opposed to the "equal treatment of all women regardless of their gender identity."