Expanded Federal Clemency Rules: Another Step Toward Ending Mass Incarceration
NCTE applauds the Justice Department's announcement that it will broaden the criteria for clemency for federal prisoners. The Obama Administration's action means that up to 2,000 people convicted of nonviolent offenses have a shot at shortening draconian sentences. "This is another important step reflecting the growing bipartisan consensus that we lock up far too many people today for far too long, at tremendous human and fiscal cost," said NCTE Director of Policy Harper Jean Tobin. NCTE was proud to recently publish "Standing with LGBT Prisoners: An Advocate's Guide to Ending Abuse and Combating Imprisonment," which focuses primarily on changing the conditions for LGBT and especially trans people inside prisons and jails. But we know that there is no such thing as a truly safe and decent prison for trans people, and far too many of our community are incarcerated.
If even one or two transgender people are able to go home from federal prisons under this policy, it can be considered a victory. Despite federal Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) regulations to the contrary, federal prisons still house people based solely on their genital anatomy, meaning essentially all trans women are housed with men and strip-searched by male officers. In these conditions, trans prisoners are exponentially more likely to be raped or assaulted. Many end up in prolonged solitary confinement, which can devastate their mental and physical health. The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) has joined many other organizations in pressing the Federal Bureau of Prisons to adopt meaningful housing and search policies that enable transgender women to be housed and searched in the same manner as other women. Like the Attorney General's decision last August to urge federal prosecutors not to seek long sentences in nonviolent drug cases, this is just an initial step. Ultimately the president must approve every application for clemency, and this president has so far granted a historically low number of pardons. Less than 1% of over 200,000 federal prisoners are thought to be eligible for review under the new rules, and hundreds of thousands in state prisons for nonviolent offenses will not benefit from this policy. The National Center for Transgender Equality urges the Obama Administration to swiftly implement this policy and grant clemency in every appropriate case—there should be many. We continue to urge state and federal policymakers to fully implement PREA and take steps to drastically reduce our reliance on incarceration, which disproportionately affects LGBT people. LGBT advocates can use our guide "Standing with LGBT Prisoners" to play a key role in this important work.