Riverside County, Calif.’s public defender is asking a court to order that a well-regarded treatment alternative to incarceration be made available to offenders who self-identify as gay. A petition submitted last week in Riverside County Superior Court states that the county Sheriff’s Department is unlawfully barring openly gay inmates from its Residential Substance Abuse Treatment (RSAT) program.
The Desert Sun newspaper in Southern California reported last week that the issue involves county corrections officials’ practice of “blue-banding” self-identified gay inmates, who receive blue wristbands and are housed separately from the general inmate population. These inmates then find themselves routinely barred from entry into RSAT, which involves six months of therapy, 12-Step meetings and vocational assistance.
Other aspects of an inmate’s profile, including gang membership and a serious medical illness such as diabetes, can result in the blue-banded status. Public Defender Roger Tansey says that while protective custody for gay inmates makes sense, this does not justify restricting from them a treatment option that can take time off their sentence and improve their chances of successful community reintegration. RSAT currently serves about 100 Riverside County inmates out of one county correctional facility.
According to Tansey, while this particular judicial action is filed on behalf of one specific inmate who was denied enrollment into RSAT, he has seen numerous examples of what he refers to as discrimination against gay inmates in this manner.