NYCDS Testifies on The TGNCNBI Task Force Report Update and TGNCNBI Individuals in Rikers
New York County Defender Services
Committee on Women and Gender Equity
Committee on Criminal Justice
Oversight Hearing – The TGNCNBI Task Force Report Update and TGNCNBI Individuals in Rikers
January 25, 2023
My name is Natalie Fiorenzo. I am a Corrections Specialist at New York County Defender Services and a member of the TGNCNBI Task Force. NYCDS is an indigent defense office that every year represents tens of thousands of New Yorkers in Manhattan’s criminal and Supreme Courts. The NYCDS Corrections Specialist Team provides a direct channel of communication with and advocacy for our incarcerated clients. When our clients express concerns relating to their health or living conditions in the jails, we intervene and advocate on their behalf to address underlying issues and unmet needs. My testimony today is grounded in our advocacy work for our incarcerated clients. Thank you to Chairs Cabán and Rivera for holding today’s hearing and to all of the Council Members who have sponsored the bills on today’s agenda seeking to expand protections for TGNCNBI people in our city jails and state prisons.
- Background on the TGNCNBI Task Force
LGBTQI people are overrepresented at every stage of the criminal legal system. As the Prison Policy Institute notes, “They are arrested, incarcerated, and subjected to community supervision at significantly higher rates than straight and cisgender people. This is especially true for trans people and queer women. And while incarcerated, LGBTQ individuals are subject to particularly inhumane conditions and treatment.”
The TGNCNBI Task Force was convened by the City Board of Correction in response to legislation passed and signed into law in 2019 after the tragic death of Layleen Polanco and in response to years of advocacy before City Council and the Board of Correction. The Task Force and its members identify and address issues faced by transgender, gender non-conforming, non-binary, and/or intersex people in city custody. Members attend quarterly meetings and prepare an annual report and serve one-year terms.
Last year the task force published its first report that found that corrections officials routinely failed TGNCNBI incarcerated people at every step of their journey through city jails. Shortly after the first report was released, the city cut off our ability to investigate conditions in the jails. The City published an article this week about the termination of LGBTQIA+ services available on Rikers since Commissioner Molina took the helm of DOC.
- NYCDS LGBTQIA+ Client Experiences on Rikers
In my experience speaking with our transgender women clients, 100% of them who were placed in a male facility upon intake were assaulted either physically, sexually, or both. Some of those clients are at a male facility to this day suffering ongoing brutal attacks despite exhaustive efforts to transfer them out. One of our clients explained to me that she informed officers at the police station, told the courtroom staff, and DOC that she is a trans woman, and was still placed in a male facility. Clearly, the current procedures in place to facilitate gender-appropriate placement is failing dramatically to keep our LGBTQIA+ clients safe. Male facilities are not safe and are not a viable option for anyone who says they need to be housed at a female facility. Housing detainees according to their gender identity is the only way to prevent attacks on TGNCNBI people in male facilities from happening going forward.
NYCDS supports all of the bills on today’s agenda. I address each bill separately below.
- 728 – Housing Decisions
Int. 728-2022 amends the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to housing decisions for TGNCNBI people in city custody. NYCDS supports this legislation with amendments as recommended by the Task Force.
The Task Force proposes amending Int. 728 to fundamentally change the process for assignment of housing for accused people who self-identify as TGNCNBI. The task force is made up of many people who are transgender, non-binary, or gender non-conforming themselves, and their edits are informed by folks on Rikers who are facing this extreme, preventable violence first-hand. If you want a real solution, and increased support for this community, this is it.
However, NYCDS deviates from the Task Force’s recommendation in one way – we do not believe that the Council has the authority to legislate what happens on the record in criminal courtrooms in our city. This power lies with the state legislature. However, we would be happy to work with the Task Force and the Council to brainstorm other ways that we could achieve our goal of ensuring that TGNCNBI people are informed at arraignments that they have the right to make autonomous decisions about housing in relation to their TGNCNBI identity and for their protection.
- 355-2022 – Choose the Gender of their Doctor
NYCDS supports legislation that would require the DOC to provide an incarcerated individual with a doctor of the same gender upon request, absent any substantial safety risk.
- 831-2022 – Citywide resource navigator for women and gender-expansive persons
NYCDS supports Int. 831 which would create a resource navigator program with the aim to create a centralized program to assist women and gender expansive people in DOC custody, as well as other relevant actors, in locating available and appropriate reentry services.
In addition to the passage of Int. 831, NYCDS urges the Council to dramatically increase investments into reentry services for this population as well as all people leaving city jails and upstate prisons, including supportive housing, reentry hotels and other services that have been chronically underfunded for decades. We cannot continue to pour money into DOC as the death toll continues to climb – if we are going to close Rikers by 2027 we must start significantly shifting resources back into our communities.
- 887-2023 – Reporting on gender identity of people in DOC custody
NYCDS supports Int. 887 which would require DOC to report monthly on people in DOC custody whose gender identity is different from the sex assigned to the individual at birth, including TGNCNBI people. This legislation is crucial for the work of the Task Force and for holding DOC accountable in protecting the rights of TGNCNBI people in city jails.
- 117-2022 – Mandate OCA update the securing order form to include a gender X option
NYCDS supports Res. 117 which calls on the legislature to sign a bill to mandate the state Office of Court Administration to update the securing order form to include a gender X option.
While this is one way to get OCA to update the form, legislation is not required to have OCA change its form. The Chief Judge can order this change to the form without legislation. Thus, NYCDS recommends that the Council not only pass this legislation but advocate directly with the future Chief Judge and OCA officials to move quickly to make this change a reality, with or without the action of the state legislature.
- 458-2023 – In favor of the Gender Identity Respect, Dignity and Safety Act
NYCDS urges the Council to take action to pass this resolution before the end of this year’s state legislative session. The Gender Identity Respect, Dignity and Safety Act is sorely needed to protect our TGNCNBI clients who are sentenced to prison terms upstate. Indeed, we represent a female trans client who was denied housing consistent with her gender identity for reasons that were completely non-sensical. The City should lead the way in protecting trans rights by updating Int. 728 but also by passing Res. 458 and urging the state to follow the City’s lead. No client should be made unsafe by being forced to serve a prison term in a facility that does not match their gender identity. The state rules are dangerous and harmful and must be changed.
Thank you for considering my testimony today. If you have any questions, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Alexi Jones, “Visualizing the unequal treatment of LGBTQ people in the criminal justice system,” Prison Policy Institute, March 2, 2021, available at https://www.prisonpolicy.org/blog/2021/03/02/lgbtq/.
 New York City Local Law 2019-145, available at https://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3923931&GUID=94F7EE69-D9E4-45D2-8A98-A67C055EAE20&Options=ID|Text|&Search=1535.
 First Report of the Task Force on Issues Faced by TGNCNBI People in Custody (Aug. 15, 2022), available at https://www.nyc.gov/assets/boc/downloads/pdf/Jail-Regulations/FINAL-REPORT-of-the-TASK-FORCE-081522.pdf.
 George Joseph, “Under Eric Adams, a Rikers Island Unit that Protected Trans Women has Collapsed,” The City, Jan. 24, 2023, available at https://www.thecity.nyc/2023/1/24/23567498/rikers-lgbtq-trans-eric-adams-corrections.
 Please note, the bill numbers on Reso 458 will need to be updated. The new 2023 Assembly bill version is A.709. As of the date of this hearing a new Senate bill number has not been assigned. See https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2023/A709.