By Curtis Skinner
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Transgender women inmates now housed in a special wing of a men's jail in San Francisco will soon be moved into the city detention facility for women under a new policy announced on Thursday to house all inmates based on their gender identity.
Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi said in a statement that the new policy sets San Francisco apart from most U.S. jails and prisons, resulting from two years of collaboration of his department with transgender and human rights groups.
"The high majority of municipal jails and prisons in this country make invisible, suppress or isolate inmates who are transgender," Mirkarimi said. "Since the transgender population is marginalized on the streets of America, consider how that marginalization is magnified inside prisons and jails."
As a first step, the new policy will allow transgender women still housed at the men's jail to attend such programs as women's-empowerment group classes, drug-and-alcohol abuse education, and vocational courses at the women's jail once staff and inmates complete "cultural competency" training, he said.
Mirkarimi said his goal was to achieve full housing integration for all of San Francisco's transgender inmates according to their preferred gender identity, male or female, by year's end.
Four transgender women inmates and one "non-gender-conforming" inmate who was born male - out of a total San Francisco jail population of about 1,250 - are currently held in an isolated area inside one of the city's jails for men, Mirkarimi said.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights, which worked with the Sheriff's Department in crafting the policy, applauded the move but said there was still more work to be done.
"There is no question that moving these women to the women's jail will improve their daily lives," said Amy Whelan, a senior attorney for the center.
The announcement comes a day after reality television star and onetime Olympic champion Caitlyn Jenner expressed concern on NBC's "Today" program over jails that house transgender inmates with detainees of the opposite sex.
Jenner is being investigated over a fatal Malibu, California, car crash earlier this year. Media outlets reported that authorities were considering whether to bring misdemeanor manslaughter charges against her, which could carry a one-year jail sentence.
About a month ago, California reached a settlement with a transgender woman inmate, agreeing to provide her gender-reassignment surgery and transfer her to a women's prison.
(The sheriff corrects transgender tally in the sixth paragraph in this story)
(Editing by Steve Gorman and Leslie Adler)