Pennsylvania Department of Corrections
Attn: [John E. Wetzel, Secretary]
2520 Lisburn Road
P.O. Box 598
Camp Hill, PA 17001-0598
Hearts On a Wire Collective
P.O. Box 36831
Philadelphia, PA 19107
To Whom It May Concern:
We are writing to request a revision to the Department of Corrections' Policy 815 on Personal Property, State Issued Items, and Commissary/Outside Purchases. We believe that there should not be a gendered distinction between the items allowed in women’s and men’s facilities. Items allowed in women's facilities should be permitted in men's facilities, and vice versa. We are asking that all language designating certain commissary items to be restricted toonly one gender be removed from the policy.
Outside of correctional facilities, the criminal legal system holds all people, male or female, accountable to the same set of laws. Whether they are placed in a men's facility or a women's facility, people are being incarcerated for the same crimes. Hence, items that are deemed safe and permissible in women's facilities should present no legitimate security issues in men's facilities. Likewise, items that are deemed safe and permissible in men’s facilities should present no legitimate security issues in women’s facilities.
The policy currently designates numerous items as "females only," or "women's facilities only." Among these items are bras, undergarments, greeting cards, earrings, nightgown or pajamas, as well as cosmetics and hygiene products. Since these items are safe in women's facilities, there is no legitimate penological or security issue that should prevent people in men's facilities from accessing or purchasing these items.
Further, the policy of assigning gender to commissary items discriminates against transgender and gender variant (T/GV) people. It prohibits people from obtaining necessary, gender-affirming items and ignores the identities of incarcerated T/GV community members. Having access to gender-affirming items can provide substantial psychic relief to individuals who are unable to express their gender identity under current policy restrictions. We believe that failing to provide these items uniformly across facilities constitutes deliberate indifference to these individuals’ mental health. We ask that you apply all commissary policies equally across facilities and in a non-discriminatory manner.
As the legal structures protecting T/GV communities grow,we seek to include our incarcerated community members in these broadening protections. Recently, the federal prison system amended its policies to provide transition-related medical treatment to incarcerated people diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria (formerly known as Gender Identity Disorder). Outside of prisons, a growing number of administrative and judicial bodies, ranging from circuit courts to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), have made precedent-setting decisions to include gender identity among the protected categories under existing gender-based federal law. Most recently, the Department of Health and Human Services issued guidance clarifying that “sex-based discrimination includes discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sex stereotypes under § 1557 of the Affordable Care Act.” As policies change throughout the country, we are seeking this small change in commissary lists with the intention of acknowledging and providing for incarcerated T/GV communities.
We, the undersigned, believe that a simple change to the commissary listing policy could actually make a difference in the lives of incarcerated T/GV people in Pennsylvania. In the interest of the safety of incarcerated people and in recognition of rapidly changing national law, policy, and attitudes, we are requesting the creation of a single commissary list which every incarcerated person may have equal access to, regardless of their sex or gender.