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Philadelphia Women Prisoners Sue for Being Housed with a Man

Four women have sued the City and County of Philadelphia, its prison system, several of its divisions and officials, and Prison Health Services (PHS, now known as Corizon) for forcing them to share a jail cell with a man for over a year.

Jovanie Saldana, 23, was taken to the Riverside Correctional Facility (RCF), a women’s prison, in June 2010 after being charged with robbery and other offenses. “Saldana’s arrest papers clearly stated he was a man,” the four women said in their 81-page complaint, filed by Philadelphia attorney Brian F. Humble on November 9, 2011.

Over the next 14 months, prisoners Jabrina Barnett, Yazmin Gonzales, Katrina Chamorro and Maria Cachola claimed they endured sexual harassment and groping. They said Saldana, a male-to-female transsexual, subjected them to “unwanted stares and sexual leering,” breast touching and “repeated sexual overtures ... in the form of commenting about the size and color of [the women’s] nipples.” Barnett alleged that “Saldana physically assaulted her by slamming her into the wall of cell 17 when Ms. Barnett complained about Saldana touching her breasts.”

RCF employees had contact with Saldana that included “daily contact for more than 425 days, 19 strip searches, two medical examinations, and, at least, one psychological examination.” The women prisoners claimed that a male guard “knew that Saldana was a man and agreed to act in concert with Saldana to conceal his true identity in exchange for sexual favors, including but not limited to oral sex.”

The women also alleged that “the day-to-day sexual harassment and the day-to-day invasion of their rights to privacy by a male inmate posing as a female inmate” could have been avoided if prison staff had not “failed to conduct [a] proper strip and body cavity search, inspect and search Saldana’s anal and penile areas and to detect Saldana’s male genitals.”

“This is not a case of medical malpractice; indeed a layperson can determine from a visual examination whether they are looking at male or female genitals,” Humble wrote in the complaint, which seeks compensatory and punitive damages. The lawsuit remains pending. See: Barnett v. City and County of Philadelphia, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Penn.), Case No. 2:11-cv-07012-ER.

The fact that Saldana was a transsexual came to light after she accused an RCF guard of sexually assaulting her by forcing her to perform oral sex – an allegation that prison officials said was unfounded following an internal investigation. Saldana has since been transferred to the Philadelphia Detention Center, which houses male prisoners.

Sources:, Philadelphia Weekly

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Related legal case

Barnett v. City and County of Philadelphia