by Matt Clarke
In a rare move, in December 2018 the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) transferred a pre-operative male-to-female transgender prisoner from a men’s prison to a women’s facility in order to conform with the prisoner’s gender identity. A similar, equally rare move was made by Massachusetts prison officials in early 2019.
Deon “Strawberry” Hampton, 27, an Illinois state prisoner, has served about two years of a 10-year sentence for committing a residential burglary in Cook County. During that time, she was housed at four different men’s prisons. Born a male, Hampton has identified as female since age five and began hormone therapy over two years ago.
In late 2018, the MacArthur Justice Center and Uptown People’s Law Center said the IDOC had “quietly moved Ms. Hampton from Dixon, one of four men’s prisons where she has been incarcerated and subjected to abuse, to Logan prison, in Lincoln.”
The two organizations helped Hampton file a pair of lawsuits in January 2018 over allegations of repeated abuse and sexual assault at all four of the men’s prisons, committed chiefly by staff members. In November 2018, U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Rosenstengel ruled that Hampton was likely to succeed on the merits of her claims and ordered the IDOC to develop staff training for transgender issues and re-evaluate Hampton’s request for a transfer to a women’s prison.
The lawsuits detailed specifics about the sexual assaults, taunting and beatings that Hampton endured. For example, she was allegedly forced by staff to engage in sexual acts with her cellmate – another transgender prisoner – for the guards’ entertainment. Hampton also described being forced to provide phone sex for a lieutenant and encountering a guard who “pulled down her shorts and asked about her genitals.”
In a declaration filed in court, clinical psychiatrist George Brown said the IDOC’s claim that Hampton could pose a greater risk to women prisoners was contradicted by the medical literature, especially since hormone treatments had significantly decreased her testosterone levels.
“We are thrilled,” said MacArthur Justice Center attorney Vanessa del Valle, commenting on the transfer to the Logan Correctional Center. “Strawberry has waited a long time for this transfer. She has been battling for a year in court to have the IDOC recognize her as a woman and protect her from the constant abuse and discrimination in men’s prisons.”
According to Hampton’s attorneys, the legal battle will continue to determine whether she will receive compensation from prison staff accused of abuse or failure to prevent abuse.
“It is our hope that this will not be a one-time review and that they will begin to do a similar all-encompassing review of all trans people in the IDOC,” added Uptown People’s Law Center executive director Alan Mills.
Sheila Bedi with the MacArthur Justice Center also lamented the fact that Hampton’s transfer failed to reflect any broad changes in IDOC policy.
“There are dozens of other women who are in her position and to our knowledge, the IDOC has done nothing to address the systemic failures that create the abuse and discrimination transwomen endure while in IDOC custody,” she noted.
Illinois prison officials claimed that other transgender prisoners had been housed in women’s facilities, but 2016 statistics reported to the U.S. Department of Justice show no transgender prisoners in the state’s two women’s prisons while 28 were held in men’s prisons. Current IDOC policy is to house prisoners according to their birth gender, only rarely allowing transfers based on gender identity.
In January 2019, the Massachusetts Department of Correction moved a pre-operative male-to-female transgender prisoner from MCI-Norfolk, a men’s prison, to the women’s prison in Framingham. The 54-year-old prisoner, identified as Jane Doe, had received hormone therapy for decades and is serving a three- to four-year sentence for a nonviolent drug offense.
“It’s a hugely important development,” said her attorney, Jennifer Levi, director of the Transgender Rights Project at GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, because it was the first time the state had made a transfer to conform to a prisoner’s gender identity. “Transgender women can and need to be integrated into women’s facilities and doing so is not just required, but appropriate.”
“Being a woman in a men’s prison was daily torture,” Doe said in a statement. “I was threatened, harassed, and humiliated nearly every day, and lived in constant fear for my safety. The stress and anxiety were totally unbearable. I’m serving my time, but no one should have to face what I did when I was at Norfolk. I hope my case can lead to the transfer and humane treatment of other transgender women in prison. We all deserve to be treated like human beings.”
In May 2018, the Trump administration rolled back protections for federal transgender prisoners that had been instituted while President Obama was in office.
And on February 21, 2019, TIME Magazine reported the North Carolina Department of Public Safety had refused to transfer Kanautica Zayre-Brown, 37, a transgender prisoner, to a women’s facility – even though she has undergone sex reassignment surgery.
Sources: chicagotribune.com, Associated Press, pantagraph.com, thesouthern.com, wbur.news, bostonglobe.com, time.com, glad.org
As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.
Already a subscriber? Login