TOO LITTLE IS known about the death of Layleen Polanco. This we know: The 27-year-old Afro-Latina transgender woman was found dead in solitary confinement last Friday afternoon at Rikers Island Jail. Polanco was being held on $500 bail owing to misdemeanor charges for a prostitution-related offense, in addition to the lowest-level drug charge. The New York medical examiner has not yet determined the cause of her death.
These sparse details alone are enough to know that Polanco’s death sits at the intersection of some of the criminal justice system’s worst excesses: the criminalization of sex workers and the policing of trans women of color that it entails; the cash bail system; the use of solitary confinement; and the fact that institutions like Rikers exist at all.