As prepared for delivery
Statement before the
New York City Council
Committee on Criminal Justice Services
Keith Powers, Chairperson
By Assistant Commissioner Faye Yelardy of PREA/ Office of Sexual Abuse and Sexual Harassment Prevention, Deputy Commissioner Heidi Grossman, Acting Warden Bibi Suares and Prechelle Shannon, Senior Institution Administrator for PREA/Office of Sexual Abuse & Sexual Harassment
On Oversight – The Experience of Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Individuals in New York City Jails.
May 1, 2019
Good morning, Chair Powers and members of the Committee on Criminal Justice. I am Faye Yelardy, the Assistant Commissioner for the Office of Sexual Abuse and Sexual Harassment Prevention for the New York City Department of Correction (DOC). Joining me at the table this morning are my colleagues who will assist me with answering questions today: Deputy Commissioner Heidi Grossman, Acting Warden Bibi Suares of Rose M. Singer Center (RMSC) and Prechelle Shannon, Senior Institution Administrator who previously served as a DOJ Certified Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) Auditor for four years. Thank you for this opportunity to discuss the Department’s work and our efforts to provide safe housing and services to transgender, gender non-confirming, and intersex individuals within our custody.
Today, I am pleased to provide opening remarks about the groundbreaking work we have undertaken to afford individuals in our care housing by gender identify as well as our ongoing efforts to institutionalize policies and practices that support and sustain sexual safety. I will also comment on Intro 1513, Intro 1514, Intro 1530, Intro 1532 and Intro 1535, the five bills being considered today.
A Commitment to Safe and Secure Housing
This Department is committed to ensuring the safety and security of everyone in our care. The population within DOC’s facilities is as diverse as the population of New York City and the Department recognizes its responsibility to provide safe housing, responsive healthcare, and engaging programs to everyone who enters the facilities. In accordance with Executive Order 16, the Department now houses individuals in our custody by gender identity. We have become a national leader in this practice and are proud that jurisdictions across the country now look to NYC as model for the placement and housing of transgender, gender non-conforming, and intersex individuals. Our practices have been developed in close consultation with leaders in the LGBTQI policy and advocacy communities as well as through conversations with the City’s Commission on Human Rights. We have also worked to provide our uniformed officers with sensitive and accurate training on the needs and rights of transgender, gender non-confirming, and intersex individuals in the Department’s custody in order to ensure these individuals are treated with understanding and respect.
Risk Reduction, Housing by Gender Identity, and the THU Process
The Department’s commitment to safe housing intake, where officers complete a security screening tool to assess an individual’s risk of victimization. Categories that are assessed by an intake officer include but are not limited to whether an individual is small in stature, the nature of crime an individual is accused of, whether or not an individual has a history of violent crime or committing sexual abuse, whether or not an individual has been a victim of sexual abuse, and whether an individual identifies or presents as gender non-conforming, and whether the individual is LGBTQI. The affirmative items checked on the screening tool are scored and, in consideration of additional security information, a housing placement is reached. The Department takes special care to separate those who may be at risk of abuse, potentially including those who are gender non-conforming, from those known to the Department to be abusers. In some cases, depending on their score on the risk assessment, it may make sense to house some gender non-conforming individuals in protective custody, in other cases, that may not be warranted.
In addition, everyone who is newly admitted into custody and identifies as transgender and/or intersex is offered the Transgender Intersex Housing (TIH) Form. The TIH form, which specifically asks if the individual identifies as transgender and/or intersex, is a critical piece of the Department’s process of identifying individuals eligible for the Transgender Housing Unit, known as the THU. The TIH form also affords transgender and/or intersex individuals an opportunity to indicate if they would prefer to be house within a male facility, a female facility, or in the THU.
The THU was created in 2015 and was initially housed in a male facility before moving to Rosie’s in July 2018. Our THU model has set the national standard for transgender and intersex housing in jail facilities. The co-location of the THU within Rosie’s has allowed transgender and intersex individuals who choose to reside in a female facility with the opportunity access the same programs, services, and health care as every other woman within the Department’s custody. The move also provided an opportunity for certain transgender and intersex individuals to be housed within GP housing units at Rosie’s if they so choose.
In addition to the THU unit itself, Rosie’s is also home to a dedicated transgender intake unit and new admission housing. If an individual going through intake at a male facility self identifies as transgender or intersex, that individual will be transferred to Rosie’s to complete the intake process. That is to say, the Department does not wait to assess an individual before transferring them to THU intake and new admission housing; safe housing takes a priority over paperwork.
Per PREA regulations and the Board of Correction’s minimum standards, all THU admission decisions are made on a case by case basis. In every consideration, the Department considers both the health and safety of the individual applying to the THU unit, the safety and wellbeing of the individuals already in the THU unit, and overall management and security operations. The transgender or intersex individual’s view on placement with respect to his or her own safety is given serious consideration in this process.
From October, 2018 to March 2019, the Department received 115 applications for the THU. The breakdown of those applications is as follows
In the same six month period, 3 transgender men were held in DOC’s custody. Per their request, all three individuals were housed at Rosie’s.
Just as any individual in DOC’s custody can apply for placement in the THU, any individual can request to leave it. If an individual no longer wishes to be housed in the THU, or if a transgender or intersex individual no longer wishes to be housed in a GP unit within Rosie’s, they are able to complete a voluntary discharge form.
Approvals and Denials
All THU requests are closely and thoroughly reviewed by the PREA Unit, which is comprised of a PREA Supervisor, a representative from CHS, RSMC facility supervisor, and the Warden or her designee. The review considers the individual’s views with respect to his or her own safety, as well as information from the risk assessment tool. The Department then makes a case-by-case determination about how to ensure the safety for each transgender or intersex individual in our custody, as required by the Federal Standard and the Board of Correction Minimum Standards. An individual will either be approved or denied housing within the female facility if the individual imposes a safety and/or security concern.
Any individual denied placement into the THU is informed of the reasons for the denial and has the opportunity to have their request reconsidered with the understanding that a secondary review will be held if the individual has new information to present. At present the PREA unit handles these appeals. We are in the process of developing a more robust review process, however, and the details of this plan are still in development. We look forward to updating the Council on our appeals process as it comes to fruition.
PREA Standards at DOC
It would be impossible for me to speak about the progress the Department has made in its efforts to safely house transgender, gender non-confirming, and intersex individuals without discussing the great work we have done to adhere to increase our PREA compliance.
Since 2015, when the Department announced it would voluntarily implement PREA standards, we have worked tirelessly to implement staff wide PREA training and refresher courses and draft policies and operational practices in line with PREA guidelines. As part of a federal grant that assist correctional facilities in becoming PREA certified, the Department has enlisted the assistance of the Moss Group, a nationally recognized expert in PREA and LGBTQI issues, to outline a multi-year plan that will bring the department into full PREA compliance.
The Department has also successfully trained over 10,000 DOC staff on PREA, with training provided to all incoming recruits, and there are monthly scheduled trainings for all DOC non-uniform staff, contractors, and volunteers. Training is vital to remind staff of the importance of professional and respectful terminology and of their responsibility to protect vulnerable populations wherever they may be housed.
Finally, I will now comment on Intro 1513, Intro 1514, Intro 1530, Intro 1532 and Intro 1535.
Introduction 1513 & 1514
Every individual in DOC’s custody has equal access to health care and mental health care. The Department supports the spirit of Intro. 1513 and 1514 – in fact, the Department is home to the oldest methadone clinic in the country - and wants to impress upon the Council that providing these services to everyone is a responsibility the Department takes seriously. Whether legislated to or not, DOC will continue to ensure health care access is afforded to all individuals in our custody.
Regarding Intro. 1530, which we understand to be a companion bill to 1532, the Department supports the general premise of the bill but would like to work with the Council on the metrics and wording so as not to produce duplicative information as what is already reported to the Board of Correction.
As a national correctional leader in housing by gender identity, the Department shares the Council’s interest in having a tool to assess an individuals risk of victimization, a fair and thoughtful process to make certain housing assignments on a case by case basis, and a process for an appeal of that assignment. The Department is in the process of designing has a robust secondary review process that allows for review by parties not involved in the original decision process. As bill negotiations continue, we’d appreciate the opportunity to talk through our existing process with Council more fully and work together to devise legislation that supports fairness and safe housing for all.
Intro 1535 requires the creation of a task force with mainly external parties to advise on DOC policies and security protocols. While we appreciate the spirit of collaboration of this bill, the Department cannot support this legislation. The Department has worked closely with advocates and LGBTQI policy experts to devise our existing policies and programs. In fact, we already meet with advocates on a quarterly basis – and sometimes more frequently - to address ongoing issues. However, there is a difference from bringing in issue area experts to advise on policy creation and having issue area experts, who are not experts in corrections and security, make recommendations on security policy. The Department opposes individuals without a correctional services background advising on security and housing polices in transmissions to the Mayor and the Council. In addition, we have serious concerns about potentially sharing sensitive and confidential information with individuals who lack authority to possess access to this information. However, we remain open to additional conversations about avenues to integrate LGBTQI advocates into operational discussions as we have with advocates concerned with visiting practices, program offerings, and bail procedures.
As you can see the Department has worked hard to improve the safety and experience of transgender, gender non-confirming, and intersex individuals in our custody. The Department appreciates Council’s interest and support in these matters and we look forward to continuing to work with you, the Board, and advocates to build upon the work we have already done and remain a national model for correctional institutions across the country for years to come. We would also extend an invitation to Council to visit our THU so you can see the good work we are doing for yourselves.
Thank you again for the opportunity to testify today and we are happy to answer any questions.