Federal judge upholds California law allowing men to enter women’s prisons

By Zachary Stieber
Contributing writer

A US judge has dismissed a legal challenge against a California law that allows men, even if they have not undergone gender reassignment surgery, to be housed with women in prisons.

Senate Bill 132, which took effect in 2021, allows men who self-identify as female, nonbinary, or genderfluid to serve their sentences in women’s correctional facilities. Some women sued state officials, arguing that the law violates their constitutional rights, including the right to free exercise of religion, and subjects them to cruel and unusual punishment.

In the May 14 ruling, U.S. District Judge Jennifer Thurston dismissed the lawsuit.

Arguments based on the California Constitution must be dismissed based on judicial precedent, wrote Thurston, an appointee of President Joe Biden. As for the federal claims, even though neither side raised the 11th Amendment, the court decided that the amendment’s immunity means the rest of the claims must be dismissed.

“As a state agency, it is a long-established principle that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is immune from lawsuits in federal courts under the 11th Amendment,” Thurston said, citing a 2009 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals. .USA for the 9th Amendment. Circuit and other sentences. “Even if CDCR has not been fully informed, the court cannot conclude that CDCR has unequivocally waived immunity and consented to federal jurisdiction. Although the CDCR has appeared and defended this action by filing a motion to dismiss, these actions do not constitute an unequivocal expression of a waiver of immunity or consent to sue.”

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation did not respond to a request for comment.

Before the law was enacted, some men could serve their sentences in women’s prisons, but only if medical staff flagged them as symptoms of gender dysphoria. Supporters said the law was necessary to protect men who identify as women.

The judge also addressed other arguments, including the plaintiffs’ argument that the state’s position on whether people can change their sex based in part on thoughts and feelings constituted “a government-sanctioned religious doctrine that is not subject to change.” based on material reality.

“As a matter of law, the court cannot plausibly determine that transgenderism is a religion,” the judge said.

She barred the plaintiffs from filing an updated complaint against the CDCR, but said that within 21 days they could file an amended action against state officials who were also named as defendants.

The Women’s Liberation Front, which filed the lawsuit, highlighted how Madera County prosecutors recently charged Tremaine Carroll, a man housed with women, with two counts of forcible rape and dissuading a witness from testifying. Carroll had told the federal court in a sworn statement in the case that he could “sympathize with the plaintiffs” and that he was “not a threat to them.”

The California Office of Inspector General has previously acknowledged that some pregnancies could occur in California prisons since men are housed with women. He said state officials confirmed “numerous allegations of consensual sexual misconduct” between recently transferred inmates. And, according to the Women’s Liberation Front, officials began handing out condoms shortly after the law was enacted.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of inmates Janine Chandler, Tomiekia Johnson, Krystal González and Nadia Romero.

“We have already seen the devastating result of these policies in the two years it took to get a response from the court: rape, pregnancy, and repeated violations of women’s constitutional rights. “This is not the end of our fight,” the group said in a statement. “We will continue to pursue all avenues of justice for Janine, Tomiekia, Krystal, Nadia and all women incarcerated in California.”

Lambda Legal, among those involved in the case, applauded the ruling.

“We are relieved that the court understood this legally erroneous challenge and rejected its distorted arguments,” Nora Huppert, a lawyer for the organization, said in a statement. “In dismissing this challenge, the court recognized that California has an obligation to protect the safety of incarcerated transgender people.”