Politics

Mississippi bill would allow incarcerated people sue prisons transgender inmates

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A bill before Mississippi lawmakers might allow incarcerated people to sue jails and prisons if they encounter inmates from the opposite sex, such as those who are transgender, in restrooms or changing areas.

State lawmakers advanced the proposal out of a House committee Thursday. It would require inmate restrooms, changing rooms and sleeping quarters in correctional facilities to be designated for use only by members of one sex. If prisoners encounter someone of the opposite sex in any of those areas, they could sue the prison under the proposal.

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Correctional facilities in the state are already segregated by sex, and Republican Rep. Gene Newman, the bill’s sponsor, could not point to any example of a Mississippi facility forcing a prisoner to share spaces with someone from the opposite sex. Instead, Newman said, he introduced the bill in response to people in other parts of the country receiving accommodations that match their gender identity.

“It gives the inmate a course of action,” Newman said. “Just watching things that’s happening around the country, I mean you’ve got girls sports. You’ve got men that are pretending to be women just to win. It’s going to happen in prison. Men shouldn’t be in with women. Period.”

The legislation defines “sex” as “a person’s biological sex, either male or female, as observed or clinically verified at birth.” It does not contain language about intersex people — those born with physical traits that don’t fit typical definitions for male or female categories.

Newman said the bill was written in part by the Alliance for Defending Freedom, which describes itself as a Christian law firm.

Mississippi Rep. Gene Newman, R-Pearl, speaks, Feb. 15, 2024, at the Mississippi Capitol in Jackson, Miss. State lawmakers advanced a bill sponsored by Newman out of a House committee Thursday, Feb. 22, that would require inmate restrooms, changing rooms and sleeping quarters in correctional facilities to be designated for use only by members of one sex. If prisoners encounter someone of the opposite sex in any of those areas, they could sue the prison. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

A handout distributed to lawmakers that Newman said was prepared by the firm cites a California law that requires the state to house transgender inmates in prisons based on their gender identity — but only if the state does not have “management or security concerns.”

Transgender inmates are often housed based on their sex assigned at birth. Advocates have said that practice can be dangerous for transgender women housed in facilities for men.

A report on the California law issued by the state’s Office of the Inspector General found that 382 people had requested transfers based on their gender identity by December 2022.

The state conducted hearings for 55 out of 382 requests, approving 36 and denying 19. None of the hearings during that period were for incarcerated people requesting a transfer from a women’s prison to a men’s prison, the report said.

The Mississippi law was introduced amid a broad effort in conservative states to restrict transgender athletes, gender-affirming care and drag shows. This year, GOP lawmakers are considering a new round of bills that would restrict medical care for transgender youths — and in some cases, adults. That marks a return to the issue a year after a wave of high-profile bills became law and sparked lawsuits.

In 2023, Newman sponsored Mississippi’s law banning gender-affirming hormones or surgery in the state for anyone younger than 18.

Newman’s latest bill awaits consideration by the full House.

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