Rio de Janeiro Offers Some Basic Protections to Transgender Prisoners

New rules allow access to medical care and could save inmates from physical and sexual abuse.


Prisons have an abysmal record when it comes to treatment of transgender inmates. Attacks by fellow prisoners, sexual abuse, denial of medical care — take everything that makes prison bad and exacerbate it, basically. But if Rio de Janeiro can get its shit together and make life behind bars a little more humane for its trans prisoners, maybe there’s hope.

The AP reports that the Brazilian state adopted new rules in May to stop abuses in its 52 penitentiaries. The rules allow trans inmates to be known by their common names instead of only legal ones, guarantee access to conjugal visits, and allow inmates who identify as female the option of serving sentences in a women’s prison. They also guarantee access to hormone therapy for the roughly 600 trans inmates the state is housing. Those who identify as women will be allowed to wear makeup and to keep their hair long, and they will not have to undergo strip searches in front of other prisoners.

Pretty simple steps, right? But still the United States is playing catch-up here, and would’ve saved transgender inmate Michelle Norsworthy a lot of pain and heartache in her years-long legal struggle to be afforded a little dignity behind bars. Check out her story if you want a sense of life for trans inmates without protection, and feel like a low sigh over how far we have to go.