The California Parole Board’s Treatment of Transgender Individuals
Researchers from the Williams Institute and the Social Justice Legal Foundation reviewed transcripts of 42 parole hearings in California to understand how transgender parole seekers are treated since the implementation of the Transgender, Respect, Agency, and Dignity Act.
In this report, we describe findings of research conducted by scholars at the Williams Institute in collaboration with the Social Justice Legal Foundation (SJLF) that aimed to understand how transgender parole seekers fare in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) parole hearings. As a result of a public records request by SJLF, we received transcripts of 42 parole hearings that took place between January 1, 2021 – February 28, 2022, in which persons seeking parole identified as transgender.
Our analysis shows that
- Transgender individuals, aged 30 – 76, for whom transcripts were provided, were granted parole at approximately the same rate as the general population of parole seekers during that period: 31% of the transgender individuals in our sample (13 of 42) were granted parole as compared with 34% of all parole seekers in 2021, as reported by the CDCR.
- Approximately 43% (16 out of 37 with relevant data) of parole hearings for transgender individuals included misgendering and/or insensitive or biased comments.
- Examples of insensitive or biased statements included parole commissioners questioning whether the parole seeker would remain sober because the “LGBTQ community has big parties,” and one commissioner spending several minutes discussing whether a transgender woman is able to maintain an erection.
- Examples of misgendering include a parole seeker’s own attorney misgendering them, stating that he felt “weird” about using his client’s preferred pronouns. One nonbinary individual asked the commissioners to be addressed by name, but the commissioners pushed the individual to choose a pronoun.
- Some commissioners appeared moved when parole seekers spoke about how challenges stemming from being closeted as a transgender person (prior to transition) contributed to criminal behavior or how a transition could facilitate rehabilitation.
- Other commissioners had negative reactions to the transgender individuals before them.
- For example, one commissioner doubted that the incarcerated individual’s transgender status would make life easier on the outside, suggesting that because one parole seeker had never “lived in society as a transgender woman . . . surely it’s going to be difficult.”
- Another commissioner stated, without prompting, “I don’t want to offend anybody, but your whole . . . , how you identify, is going to be an issue in the community. Right? I mean, that’s going to cause stress.”
- Having an explicit parole housing plan was an important factor in granting parole—10 of 18 (56%) people with a housing plan were granted parole as compared with 3 out of 24 (13%) individuals who did not have an explicit housing plan.
- Although finding appropriate transitional housing is extraordinarily challenging for transgender individuals, parole commissioners heavily consider this factor in their parole determination.