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Panel to decide where to house transgender inmate

By Brian L. Cox, Chicago Tribune –

CHICAGO — A “Gender Identity Committee” will decide where a transgender woman with an extensive criminal record will be housed after she was sentenced this week to four years in prison on felony retail theft, battery and violation of probation charges, authorities said.

Maribel Torres, identified in court records as Jose Torres, was sentenced Tuesday at the Skokie, Ill., courthouse to four years in the Illinois Department of Corrections after pleading guilty to incidents in the women’s departments of stores in Skokie and Deerfield.

“She seems like she’s headed in the right direction to me,” said Cook County Assistant Public Defender Lisa Ottenfeld, who represented Torres during the sentencing hearing before Cook County Circuit Court Judge Timothy Chambers. “She’s come to terms with a lot of her issues.”

Torres, of Chicago, who has shoulder-length brown hair, was born a male. But for more than 10 years Torres has identified as a woman, undergoing hormone treatments to enhance her female appearance, said authorities.

Transgender prisoners have long presented challenges for the Cook County Sherriff’s Department and the Illinois Department of Corrections, according to a sheriff’s department spokesman. Last March the state Department of Corrections modified its policy on transgender prisoners.

The policy notes that the department’s goal is to provide a safe and secure environment for all inmates who identify themselves as transgender, or who are identified by Cermak Health Services of Cook County as having gender identity disorder.

“… and to uphold the respect and dignity of these, and all, inmates,” the policy states. “This policy is a component of the Prison Rape Elimination Policy and thereby requires zero tolerance for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, including verbal or physical harassment or abuse of transgender inmates by other inmates or by employees.”

The policy also notes that transgender prisoners can ask to be placed in the male or female section of a prison, but that the final decision is made by a “Gender Identity Committee” that consists of medical, sheriff’s department and department of corrections representatives. That committee will decide where to house Torres.

“The Gender Identity Committee shall meet within 72 hours of the clinical verification that an inmate meets clinical criteria for the diagnosis of gender identity disorder. In preparation for this meeting, the Sheriff’s Medical Advocate shall meet with the inmate to solicit his/her preferences and requests with regard to housing, clothing, commissary, showering, grooming, recreation, programming, escort, transportation, searches and other matters. The inmate’s preferences and requests shall be considered but are not determinative,” the policy states.

Torres was originally housed in the male section of the Cook County jail after her arrest last year, but was subsequently moved to special unit in the jail where she received drug and counseling services, said Ottenfeld, the public defender said.

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