NYC Determines Layleen Polanco’s Death Might Have Had To Do With Her State In Solitary Confinement
As PRIDE month comes to an end, we say goodbye to one of our trans sisters who was taken from us far too soon.
Bedecked in vibrant rainbows to celebrate the vivid woman they’ve lost, hundreds of mourners paid their last respects to Layleen Polanco. The transgender woman was found dead in Riker Correctional Center at the beginning of June. Since then, activists in the LGBTQIA+ community have come forward demanding Justice for Layleen.
Further information about Polanco’s last days are finally shedding some light on her death.
On June 7, 2019, the 27-year-old was found unresponsive in her cell. According to the the New York City Department of Corrections, attempts were made to resuscitate Polanco. Unfortunately, she was soon pronounced dead after she was discovered. Though there is no cause of death as of yet, the DOC has gone on record as saying that her death was not “the result of violence or foul play.”
That’s all the information we had about Polanco’s passing until earlier this week. The City of New York has recently disclosed that the trans woman was being held on $500 bail because of charges stemming from 2017. The incident involved a minor charge for prostitution and low-level drug possession.
According to reports, Polanco missed a court appearance for an unrelated charge that happened in April 2019. A warrant was issued for her arrest and Polanco was unable to post bail. Due to this, she was remanded to Rikers Correctional Center. As if this information isn’t troubling enough, we have also learned that Polanco spent her last 9 days of life in solitary confinement.
The information we’ve been given about Polanco’s time in Rikers reflect a woman in the midst of struggle.
According to her Rikers’ record, Polanco spent eight days in the prison’s hospital during the first part of May. The reason why is unknown to us because of patient confidentiality laws. However, we do know that Polanco was disciplined for fighting soon after she left hospital services.
Her punishment for this was to be moved to a restrictive housing unit that segregated her from the general population. Aside from the daily three-hour group therapy sessions, the rest of her time would have been served in complete isolation.
Correction Commissioner Cynthia Brann released a statement about Polanco’s death. It reads in part:
“This is a tragic loss and we extend our deepest condolences to her family. We are conducting a full investigation as the safety and well-being of people in our custody is our top priority.”
Polanco’s death has spurned activists, community members, family, and friends to protest the criminal and prison systems.
Protesters have gathered in NYC throughout June, calling for justice for the late woman. Polanco was a member of the House of Xtravaganza, one of New York’s iconic ballroom scene institutions. Her ballroom community and family have been some of the loudest voices calling for change in the wake of her death.
One of the demands coming from these protests is the closing of Rikers Correctional Center. The facility has had issues housing trans individuals in the past and Polanco’s death is the final straw for prison activists. Criminal justice reform advocates have long been pushing for Rikers’ closing. A November 2018 testimony to the New York City Council also found that the physical and mental needs of trans inmates aren’t always met at the facility.
Additionally, activists have called for the decriminalization of prostitution and minor sex crimes. This is a direct result of Polanco’s prostitution charge. Had she not been arrested in 2017 for prostitution, she never would have been in Rikers, to begin with. If her bail hadn’t been so expensive, Polanco would still be with us. This was all avoidable.
The struggle for Justice for Layleen is far from over. Still, we won’t forget and we won’t give in. Justice for this trans woman is justice for all trans women. We won’t stop until we have it.