Friday, December 26, 2008

Increased sentence for targeting trans prisoner

In White v. U.S., the D.C. Court of Appeals affirmed a sentencing enhancement for a prison guard who physically and sexually assaulted a transgender prisoner. The sentencing judge reasoned that the prisoner's trangender status constituted a "reduced physical capacity" under the D.C. sentencing guidelines, thereby meriting the tougher sentence. The appeals court said it would not decide whether trangender status is actually a form of "reduced physical capacity," because the D.C. guidelines are purely advisory, and it doesn't really matter whether judges interpret them correctly in a given case. The court nevertheless upheld the enhancement:
As the trial judge explained, White's sentence was intended to reflect his victim's particular vulnerability as a transgender inmate in an all-male prison unit and, we are satisfied, appropriately reflects what the government's evidence showed was the non-consensual nature of the encounter.
While I'm generally predisposed to favor more lenient sentencing, this strikes me as appropriate. "Reduced physical capacity" is a real stretch, since trans people aren't physically impaired in any way by virtue of being trans. But trans people are certainly especially vulnerable to abuse in prisons, especially given the dominant practice in the U.S. of housing inmates on the basis of their birth sex. And when a prison guard exploits that vulnerability, a sentencing enhancement may serve to deter such exploitation in the future.

1 comment:

Zoe Brain said...

If the prisoner had been on hormones for a while, then she would have as much "reduced physical capacity" compared to the male population of a jail as any other woman would have.

Without knowing the facts (medical history, jail etc) I can't be certain that this was the crux of the issue, but the International Olympic Committee considers transsexual women to be physically transitioned after 2 years of treatment.

If this was the case, the situation would be exactly comparable to having any other woman put in a male jail. Both obvious physical vulnerability to sexual assault, and greatly decreased upper body strength compared to many highly aggressive prisoners who "work out" to make their violence more effective would be factors.