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Denver changes the way it handles transgender inmates

3:19 AM, Jul 6, 2012   |    comments
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"In the State of Colorado, I would say it's very unique," Denver Undersheriff Gary Wilson said. "We believe it was important for us to not just protect the persons from physical harm but also from psychological harm while they're with us inside the jail."
Wilson says the new transgender policy will save the City and County of Denver money.

"Prior to this policy going in place, the most likely place for housing transgender [inmates] was to be locked down for 23 hours a day," Wilson said.

A 23-hour lockdown is more expensive than housing people in the general population, according to the sheriff's department.

People behind this policy say it's about basic human rights. The new rules at the Denver jails are for people who might be born one sex but identify as another.

"It's very much about equality," said Courtney Gray with the LGBT Community Center of Colorado. "It's about respecting people, although someone may have broken the law."

"This is definitely the most progressive policy in the state," Gray said. "Nationally, it's definitely one of the most progressive and comprehensive in the country."

She said the national statistics speak for themselves.

"We know from a recent national survey on the transgender population that 22 percent of folks who have come in contact with law enforcement have been harassed in some way, especially in the jail setting," Gray said. "37 percent of those who have been in the jail setting have experienced harassment from other folks within the jail."

The Center helped the sheriff's department come up with the right steps to use at the jail.

"They did an outstanding job working with me and others who need education and expertise and really putting together a very strong policy," Wilson said.

The Denver Sheriff's Department says it deals with one to three transgender inmates a month.

"We wanted to find a way that would allow persons to not be locked down," Wilson said.

A review board with multiple experts will now help place inmates where they belong. When the inmate is booked, he or she will spend 72 hours away from others while experts determine what's best for them.

Wilsons said he wanted to make sure the inmates had the right mental health and medical treatments.

"The end goal for us was just safety while they're with us," he said. "That's really what we're trying to do with this policy, is just insure that they're safe the entire time they're with us inside the jail."

Exactly how much money the policy will save remains to be seen, the department will be tracking that.

Forty different people worked on the policy. Wilson said he's talked about the issue and the need to have something in place for awhile. He's been in charge at the department for two years.

"I felt like it was my duty, my responsibility to really create something in regards to this issue that would allow for the safety of the individual while they're with us," Wilson said.

(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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