The USA has no national laws regarding gender identity (yet) and each state does things very differently. California is the largest state by population and has the largest population of incarcerated women. They also have the weakest legal protections for females, in favour of “gender identity” policies. As such, California is a good proxy for the USA as a whole and a fairly accurate representation of where the nation will end up if it keeps down this path.
The issues facing women in prison in California, including their offending patterns, vulnerabilities and needs mirror those faced by women in prison in the UK. The number of women in prison in California is approximately 15,000. This is around 9.5% of the total prison population.
The law on gender recognition
An individual may apply to any Superior Court for a court order to change their gender.
There is no requirement for a diagnosis of dysphoria nor any medical or surgical reassignment. There is no requirement to have ‘lived’ in the acquired gender for any period of time. Self-ID is sufficient. Applicants are not required to make any declaration, save that the application is not made for any fraudulent purpose. No supplementary documentation is required to support the application. The application for is a single page asking for a minimal amount of personal information. Unless a written objection is filed within 28 days of the filing of the petition, showing good cause for opposing a court order recognizing the change in gender, the court will grant the petition without a hearing.
If the judge approves the request to change gender, the judge will sign the Order Recognizing Change of Gender and for Issuance of New Birth Certificate. This can be used to obtain a new birth certificate with the sex marker changed to reflect the new gender. However, a court ordered recognition of gender change is not required in order to change a California driver's license, social security card, or U.S. passport. It is also not required to have a new birth certificate issued reflecting a change of gender. Interestingly, the link provided by California Courts to obtain information about how to do this takes you to the Transgender Law Center. TLC describes itself as “the largest national trans-led organization advocating for a world in which all people are free to define themselves and their futures.”
The process for changing name is separate to the process for changing gender: if the applicant also wants to change name, a separate court order must be applied for.
Parents/legal guardians may also apply on behalf of a child to change that child’s gender.
There is no specific legislation that mandates for single-sex spaces and there are no laws that protect, for example, single-sex bathrooms or locker rooms in public places. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 has a provision for sex-segregated bathrooms, but the regulatory agency produced regulations on “gender-separated” bathrooms instead.
The courts have been increasingly interpreting “sex” as the same as “gender identity” and this is likely to both continue and increase. This means that “women” in civil rights law no longer necessarily means “adult human female” and can mean someone who identifies as a woman. For example in the state of Idaho, the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act has been passed which prohibits student athletics (which are, by federal law, allowed to sex-segregate) from allowing self-ID into women’s sports. This has been challenged and is currently enjoined from enforcement by a federal court. It is under appeal.
Prisons policy and practice
In 2020 SB132 was passed which allows prisoners to be allocated to the male or female estate on the basis of self-ID alone. The policy came into effect in 1 January 2021.
No consideration is given to sex, legal gender, anatomy or the duration of time the prisoner has ‘lived as a woman’. There is no requirement for medical or surgical ‘reassignment’. SB 132 also allows a prisoner, on the basis of self-ID, to specify the sex of the prison officer who searches them, including ‘strip searches’.
Our colleagues in the USA are seeking clarification concerning how male prisoners who identify as women are officially recorded: are they recorded as male/man or as female/woman.
California has approximately 1,000 prisoners who identify as transgender. As in the UK, it is likely that the large majority of these are males who identify as transgender. It is also likely that there are very few requests from females to transfer to the male estate and that, where these are made, the transfer is refused.
In April 2021, the LA Times reported that since SB132 took effect, 261 transfer requests had been made with all but six of these requesting a transfer to a women’s prison. Inmates at Chowchilla Women’s Prison say that prison guards have warned them that “men are coming and to expect sexual violence. That if we think it’s bad now, be prepared for the worst.” One of the males who has been approved for transfer from Mule Creek State Prison to Chowchilla is Kelly Renard Blackwell who was sentenced in 1990 to life without possibility of parole.
In April 2021, FOX40 reported that female corrections officers had objected to the requirement that they perform strip-searches on male prisoners when they request this on the basis of gender identity. The report states that officers are concerned for their jobs, with one stating “They’ve already said we will be written up. All the way to termination.”
Please note this link is unavailable in the UK and EU:
The LA Times reported that Michelle Kailani Calvin is imprisoned at Chowchilla Women’s Prison. Calvin was sentenced in 2010 to life imprisonment for robbery and carjacking. He will be eligible for parole in 2031.
The same article reported that Tiffany Rhiaunda Tooks is also imprisoned at Chowchilla Women’s Prison. Tooks was sentenced in 1996 to life without possibility of parole.
Jason Michael Hann, AKA Jessica Marie Hann beat his two infant children to death. The bodies were concealed in storage facilities. He was sentenced in 2014 to 30 years for the murder of his 2-month old son, Jason, and was sentenced to death for the killing of his 10-month old daughter, Montana. At the time of arrest, a third infant was discovered to be showing signs of abuse. His common-law wife, and the mother, Krissy Lynn Wernz, was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. By 2019 Hann had ‘transitioned’ whilst being held on death row at San Quentin (KESQ, 15 March 2019) and was subsequently transferred to Central California Women’s Facility, where female death row inmates are held. (The Post Millennial, 8 April 2021, Libby Emmons)
David Warfield, AKA Dana Rivers, a former high school teacher, “transitioned’ in 1999. In 2016 he was arrested after a lesbian couple, Patricia Wright and Charlotte Reed, together with their 19-year old son, Benny Diambu-Wright, were discovered dead in their home in Oakland, California. The two women had sustained multiple gunshot and stab wounds. The young man had been shot to death. The house had been set on fire. Rivers was discovered by police drenched in blood and running from the doorway of the house. He was in possession of knives, ammunition and metal knuckles. He has been charged with triple murder. The trial date is currently set for 4 October 2021. His exact location is unknown, however the county inmate locator has Rivers classified as female so it is reasonable to assume that he is being held in a female facility. Previously, Rivers had been an active member of Camp Trans, which campaigned against the rights of lesbians to hold Michfest, a women-only annual music festival. In 2015, Camp Trans succeeded in getting Michfest, which was first held in 1976, shut down. Patricia and Charlotte had been regular attendees.
Richard Masbruch AKA Sherri Masbruch was convicted in 1991 of rape, sodomy, false imprisonment, torture and burglary. He was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences. Masbruch was initially sent to a men’s prison and in 2000 or 2001 he successfully amputated his penis after several previous attempts. In 2005 he was transferred to California Medical Facility in Vacaville, which houses inmates requiring specialist medical care. There he began receiving hormone treatment was was reclassified as a woman.
In 2009 he was transferred to Chowchilla Women’s Prison. The decision to move him to a women’s prison was partly based on the absence of male genitalia and partly for ‘safety reasons’ due to the risk he would face in a male prison.
The women he was imprisoned with reported that he was attacking and raping women with an object. One female prisoner filed a grievance contending that she was experiencing constant panic attacks and that Masbruch’s presence violated her right to be housed only with women.
Following this outcry, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation regularly relocates Masbruch and his current location in prison is not known.
Rodney James AKA Shiloh Heavenly Quine was convicted in 1981 of kidnapping and murder and sentenced to life with no possibility of parole. Initially he was housed in a men’s prison where is 2009 he began ‘living as a woman’. In 2017 he became the first US inmate to have taxpayer-funded ‘reassignment’ surgery after he brought a lawsuit which was settled in 2015 (NBC News, 23 March 2017, Lloyd Billingsley, California Globe, 9 June 2019). He was then moved from Mule Creek State Prison for men to Chowchilla Women’s Prison. As a result of the lawsuit California became the first state to set standards for transgender inmates to undergo reassignment surgery.
Reports in 2020 suggest that he has sexually harassed and intimidated women in prison and is one of several male prisoners housed there.
Jeffrey Bryan Norsworthy AKA Michelle Lael Norsworthy was convicted in 1986 of second degree murder and sentenced to 17 years to life. He was sent to Mule Creek State Prison for men. In the 1990s he began ‘living as a woman’ and in 2000 began hormone treatment. In 2015 he was paroled (Daily Mail, 7 August 2015) and underwent reassignment surgery in 2017.
In 2018 he was arrested for parole violation and the use of tear gas and was sent to Chowchilla Women’s Prison where he remains. He was denied parole in September 2019 and in August 2020, with the next opportunity for parole presenting itself in August 2021.
How can I help?
Please write to your State Senate and Assembly Representatives. You can find out who these are at Find Your California Representative.
Please write to the Governor of California, Gavin Newsom:
Governor Gavin Newsom
1303 10th Street, Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 445-2841
Fax: (916) 558-3160
Please write to your Federal Representative. You can find out who this at
If you want to encourage the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to gather data about the impact on female inmates of California's new legislation, they can be contacted here:
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
Office of Legislation
P.O. Box 942883
Sacramento, CA. 95814
Further resources and information:
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