Transgender in the prison system

CeCe McDonald’s incarceration questions prison gender binary.

Eric Best

A few weeks ago, Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald, a Minnesota college student, was sentenced to 41 months in prison for second-degree manslaughter. McDonald is a 23-year-old African-American transgender woman. Though McDonald identifies as a female, her sentence entailed living in a male prison.

Disregarding whether or not McDonald was rightfully convicted, the case brings up vital questions we need to ask ourselves, mainly: How does a community of people who do not fit within a binary gender prison system receive proper punishment fairly under the law?

If we must include gender in our prison system, reason would justify trying to include all genders. In some cases LGBTQ inmates are segregated from other inmates, or face extra punishment like solitary confinement. Though having a transgender prison system may sound exclusionary, the safety of transgender people may be at risk in all-male or female prisons — an environment where assault, rape and gang violence are already rampant. According to a study by the National Transgender Discrimination Survey despite comprising only 8 percent of the LGBTQ community, transgender women account for nearly half of all LGBTQ hate crime violence. In prison, 67 percent of LGBTQ inmates face assault.

The government is accountable for the safety of all its prisoners, and the daunting problem can only be solved with a realistic solution that recognizes the abuse transgendered people face in everyday life, while also identifying them with the appropriate gender.

McDonald’s sentence was the result of a law enforcement system that has not updated with a society that is growing more diverse and more accepting. Her case raises tough questions that we must collectively ask ourselves to attempt to answer. As new legislation develops, we must include the transgender community so that the government can lawfully guarantee their rights and their safety.