Trans Woman in S.F. Jail On Hunger Strike To Change Housing Policy

A transgender woman in San Francisco County Jail, has been on a hunger strike for more than two weeks to compel the jail to change its housing policy, according to advocates.

Athena Cadence has refused food for 15 days in an effort to get her in-custody housing changed, according to the Transgender, Gender Variant, and Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP). Activists with the group planned to march on City Hall this morning to publicize her plight, and plan to do so again on Monday.

It wasn't clear what Cadence is in jail for. A spokeswoman for the S.F. Sheriff's Department, which manages the jail, could not tell SF Weekly where she was housed, citing privacy laws related to medical information.

But if this this true, and Cadence is not being housed with women, it would mean the Sheriff's department is missing its own deadlines to change its housing policies to accommodate transgender prisoners.

[jump] Last year, current Sheriff Vicki Hennessy's predecessor, Ross Mirkarimi, announced a policy of allowing jail inmates to be housed according to their self-identified gender.

As of last year, the jail housed transgender inmates in a separate unit for “their own protection,” as the Chronicle reported at the time

It appears that may be what the jail is still doing. A spokesperson from TGIJP did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Currently, it's jail policy to house people “according to many factors, one of which is birth gender,” said jail spokeswoman Eileen Hirst. “However, we are in the process of changing our policy to be consistent with [the Prison Rape Elimination Act].” 

The PREA is a 2003 federal law signed by then-President George W. Bush meant to cut down on sexual assaults in prisons, many of which were directed at inmates who are transgender.

There are currently three transwomen in San Francisco County Jail, Hirst said. All three are housed in a “re-entry pod” in County Jail No. 2 on Seventh Street next to the Hall of Justice.

“They are in a men's pod, but they have their own section of that housing, so they are not vulnerable to inappropriate behavior,” Hirst said. “But that is an intermediate step. All of our energies are directed at providing prisoners the option to be housed according to gender identity.”

When that will be, Hirst could not say.

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