Sacramento, California, US – The California Senate voted 29-7 on May 23 to house inmates according to their affirmed gender identity, as opposed to the traditional method of housing inmates by biological sex. This landmark decision comes despite the fact that the first male transgender inmate to be placed in a women’s facility in California was accused of carrying out a campaign of sexual violence toward female inmates.
The Senate just passed our legislation (#SB132) ensuring #transgender inmates are housed according to their gender identity, not their birth-assigned gender. Trans women, in particular, are now housed as men & then victimized. We should treat trans inmates with dignity & respect. pic.twitter.com/NWZ9LsH6Vj
— Scott Wiener (@Scott_Wiener) May 23, 2019
Bill Will House Inmates According to Gender Identity, Rather than Biological Sex
Senator Scott Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco, proposed Bill #SB132. Senator Wiener says that inmates who identify as transgender women are often put in isolation for their safety, as they are at risk of assault and rape if placed among male inmates.
If the bill passes the state Assembly, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) will be required to ask each inmate his or her gender identity, and house the inmates accordingly. Inmates whom the CDCR determines would present a significant security risk would be excluded from the policy. The legislation would also require CDCR officials to address inmates by preferred gender pronouns and preferred name in all forms of communication.
Critics say that, while Senator Wiener’s bill may help transgender inmates, it will place women’s human rights at risk.
The First Male Transgender Inmate Housed in California Women’s Prison Accused of Sexually Attacking Inmates
In 1991, career criminal Richard Masbruch went to a home in Fresno, CA under the guise of wanting to sign a lease. He blindfolded Mary Koop, then aged 45, and her mother, Marietta, aged 68. He spliced electric cords together, plugged them in, and used the cords to shock the women repeatedly. He raped and sodomized Mary Koop, and threatened to kill her mother if they reported the crime. Mr Masbruch then fled to Texas, where he was arrested for theft and burglary with the intent to commit a sexual assault.
Mr Masbruch, who came to prefer the name Sherri, successfully severed his own penis after numerous attempts to destroy his genitals with acid between 1991 and 2005 while in a Texas prison. In 2005, Mr Masbruch began receiving feminizing hormones after he was transferred to California Medical Facility in Vacaville to serve out his sentence for rape. The California Medical Facility is reserved for inmates who require special care.
At that time, the prison system placed inmates based on their genitalia, explained Terry Thornton, then the prison spokesperson. Mr Masbruch had removed his genitalia and developed such features as long hair and shaped eyebrows, hence CDCR officials said they considered him a woman, and relocated him to Chowchilla women’s prison in 2009 when he was 41-years-old.
“He’s not actually 100% female,” the convict’s brother Craig Masbruch said at the time. “I guess you could say he’s 90%.”
However, female inmates said they were not safe around Masbruch. The women reported that Mr Masbruch was raping them with foreign objects.
Anna Silver, the daughter of one of the inmates, started a petition on Change.org protesting Mr Masbruch’s placement:
Today as I answered my Mothers phone call she spoke to me and sounded slightly more upset than usual, normally she tells me she misses me. Today she told me that Richard Masbruch would be housed at CCWF. He would be the first male to be housed in a womens facility. Not only would he be housed there he would also be housed within her unit 514. Richard Masbruch is a Serial Rapist. During his time in Mens prison after his arrest he cut off his penis, claiming to be transgender. Due to inmates being unable to be interviewed what wasn’t revealed was that Masbruch is in fact still raping women within the facility, just now with foreign objects. He has also brutally injured some of the women within the facility. This does not only pose a threat to the women within the facility but also to Masbruch, for fear the women will injure him in some way or riot.
—Anna Silver, Change.org
Inmate Patricia Wright, aged 57 at the time, filed a grievance contending that she was “experiencing constant panic attacks at the thought of this male inmate,” and that “Masbruch’s presence violates her ‘right to be housed only with women.'”
Mary Koop was disturbed upon learning that her rapist was housed in a women’s facility. “That’s unbelievable, just unbelievable. Women should be worried.” Ms Koop was unable to work or live a normal life after Mr Masbruch attacked her. Her mother suffered permanent injuries from Mr Masbruch’s torture, and died five years later from brain cancer.
Following public outcry and formal complaint, the CDCR regularly relocated Mr Masbruch, and kept the locations secret. He is expected to serve life behind bars.
At the time, the failure had seemed to put an end to housing transgender inmates according to superficial, gendered modifications to their physical forms.
Legal System Failing Women?
Senator Wiener and the California Senators who supported his bill have not commented on the implications the bill would have for the human rights of women.
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Calif. Senate votes to house inmates by gender identity
10News – ABC San Diego KGTV
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Inmates in California prisons would be housed by their gender identity according to a bill moving through the state Legislature.
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People v. Masbruch (1996)
Justia US Law
[No. S047206. Aug 26, 1996.] THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. RICHARD JAMES MASBRUCH, Defendant and Appellant.
Transgender inmate faces complaint (Link to reprint here)
Richard Masbruch brutally raped and tortured a Fresno woman in 1991. Today, in a case that may be the first of its kind, he lives in a women’s prison.