However, like many things in life, the theory and practice have little in common.
"We've heard multiple times about officers openly expressing a belief that gay and transgender inmates cannot be raped, that they deserve to be raped due to their mere presence in the environment, or that if they are raped it's simply not a concern," McFarlane said.
Joe Sullivan of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said policy dictates that gay or transgender status alone does not warrant specific housing arrangements. He said the department prefers to integrate inmates in a setting that most closely resembles what they will be returning to after being paroled. When they arrive in prison, inmates are evaluated using a system called Compass, which is a set of guidelines to determine each person's specific needs. During this time, inmates are able to state whether they feel they need special arrangements.
"It's a framework that is followed by the staff at institutions," Sullivan said. "Some of the things I heard today suggest that how the framework is interpreted is one of the issues we'll have to go look into and do some further training on."
It has been suggested that the previously used designations Category B and SOR (sexual orientation), which include guidelines for "effeminately homosexual" men, might aid CDCR in their classification process. However, as Sullivan stated, the prison system's evaluation procedure largely ignores these special circumstances.
"The classification process is gender-neutral," Sullivan said. "We try to address the individual's specific needs, as opposed to having a policy for a group or a class of people. We really don't distinguish between transgender and non-transgender inmates."
While this policy is certainly egalitarian, it ignores the extreme vulnerability of LGBT inmates, something many prisoners don't realize until after they've been victimized. Then, all too often, they are placed in isolation cells usually reserved as punitive measures.
"If they have been a victim of a sexual assault, they can be and will be single-celled, at least for the period of time that we go through investigating the allegations," Sullivan said. "We try to do it in an expedient manner, so that the victim is not the one sitting in administrative segregation."
The panelists all agreed that eliminating sexual violence against the LGBT community requires some of our most precious resources: time, energy, and money. In the past, the general rule has been to increase spending for prisons while simultaneously reducing funds for social programs like housing, employment, and health care, which all have a lot do to with the amount of crime in the first place.
Advocates recommend that an effective classification system must be implemented. First, corrections officials have to acknowledge that factors like an inmate's sexual orientation or transgender status put them at an exceptionally high risk for violence. Second, steps must be taken to reduce the instances of harassment, abuse, and sexual assault suffered by inmates. Female transgender inmates must be issued sports bras and should be allowed to shower separately from the general population to curb humiliation and predation. If an assault occurs, victims should not be placed in punitive custody, the complaint must remain confidential, and assailants cannot be allowed the opportunity to retaliate. Finally, corrections officers should have to participate in an extensive training program to help them deal with these factors.
Bambi Salcedo, a transgender ex-convict who now works with transgender youth at Children's Hospital Los Angeles put it simply: "We have to realize that homosexual and transgender inmates must be treated with dignity in the correctional system."
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