Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Two-Year Investigation, Litigation and Settlement Ends Segregation, Mistreatment of LGBTQ Prisoners at California Jail

by Derek Gilna

A federal class-action lawsuit against the sheriff of San Bernardino County, California, that alleged LGBTQ prisoners were confined in an “‘Alternative Lifestyle Tank’ at the West Valley Detention Center ... to which all inmates who self-identify as gay, bisexual, and/or transgender ... [were] automatically transferred and isolated from the general population,” preliminarily settled in August 2018. 

The resolution of the four-year suit meant that LGBTQ prisoners would be able to participate in release-preparation programs from which they had been excluded by the sheriff’s previous policy.

According to the complaint, “[LGBTQ] inmates are not given equal access to opportunities to work programs (and, if applicable, reduce their sentences as a result of work assignments), services, programs and facilities, and are often treated in an abusive and neglectful manner.... One of the major purposes of sentencing is rehabilitation. Yet, [LGBTQ] inmates have no access to drug treatment, education and work programs designed to help inmates succeed in society when released. To the extent they may have limited access on rare occasions, it is substantially less than that available to non-[LGBTQ] inmates.”

ACLU of Southern California attorney Brendan Hamme stated, “The [San Bernardino County] jail maintains [that] the discrimination folks experienced was for their own safety. But jails have an obligation to keep everyone safe while providing equal access to opportunities in jail. No one should be led to choose between their safety and their equal rights.”

The case affected approximately 600 prisoners housed in the Alternative Lifestyle Tank between 2012 and 2018, who claimed that in addition to being denied re-entry and work programs, they were regularly beaten and verbally abused by sheriff’s employees. The class members will share in a $950,000 settlement fund, with awards based on the program and educational opportunities they were denied.

In addition to the monentary settlement, San Bernardino County agreed to an injunction that provides for changes in the conditions of confinement for LGBTQ prisoners, including the formation of a committee “whose purpose is to discuss the housing assignment, programming options, educational options, and employment options for inmates who self-identify as [an LGBTQ] inmate,” which “shall meet two times per month [and] shall conduct a review of the available housing, programming, education, and employment for all eligible inmates.”

The ACLU of Southern California has conducted wide-ranging investigations for several years into substandard conditions of confinement and staff abuse in southern California jails, including San Bernardino County.

The federal district court granted an unopposed motion to certify the class in September 2018 and gave preliminary approval for the settlement that same month. Final approval was granted on February 28, 2019, and the court awarded $1.1 million in attorney fees and $36,304.49 in costs to class counsel plus $27,500 to the claims administrator. See: McKibben v. McMahon, U.S.D.C. (C.D. Cal.), Case No. 5:14-cv-02171-JGB-SP. 


Additional source:

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

McKibben v. McMahon