Illinois grants trans inmate rare transfer to women’s prison

Sofia Lotto Persio December 28, 2018
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Strawberry Hampton, the trans inmate who was granted a rare transfer to a women's prison

Strawberry Hampton, a trans inmate in Illinois who was finally transferred to a women's prison in February this year. (MacArthur Justice Center)

Trans inmate Strawberry Hampton won a year-long battle to be transferred to a woman’s prison, a rare decision in the state of Illinois.

The 27-year-old, who had so far been serving her 10-year sentence for burglary in men’s prisons, filed a lawsuit last year against the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) documenting a series of allegations of sexual harassment, sexual assault and physical abuse at the hands of prison guards and inmates.

While trans women can be transferred to female prisons in the US, such moves are rarely granted. In 2016, there were no trans inmates in two female prisons in Illinois.

Strawberry Hampton detailed allegations of abuse that made her feel like a “sex slave”

In the lawsuit, filed on her behalf by lawyers at Uptown People’s Law Center and MacArthur Justice Center, she alleged that she was made to feel like a “sex slave.”

In one instance, officers came to her cell, ordered her to strip to her underwear and forced her to perform sexual acts with her cellmate.

“I want my fight to help protect all the other trans women locked up in IDOC. Life is hell for all of us in here.”

— Strawberry Hampton

According to her lawyers, officers also withheld access to mental health support, basic privileges and even a regular shower. She was even denied food and she lost 35 pounds.

In another instance of abuse detailed in the lawsuit, “officers gave her a ticket and pepper sprayed her in the face while she rolled up into a ball on the floor and cried, then gave her another ticket for failing to cooperate with the officers.”

A walkway at women's prison in Rennes, western France, like the Illinois facility where Strawberry Hampton was transferred.
Strawberry Hampton’s case detailed several instances of alleged abuse in men’s prisons. (Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty)

Her lawyers said she was given so many false disciplinary tickets she was forced to spend prolonged periods in solitary confinement, where she made several suicide attempts.

“With the support of my family I’m finding the strength to fight for my own life. I want my fight to help protect all the other trans women locked up in IDOC. Life is hell for all of us in here,” she said in a statement published on the MacArthur Justice Center‘s website.

Judge in Strawberry Hampton case ordered training on trans issues

Her case has already helped improving the prison system. In November, the federal judge in southern Illinois who ordered that prison officials re-evaluate Hampton’s request for a transfer, also ordered that prison staff in the state be trained in transgender issues.

Strawberry has fought every day to be free from sexual violence and to have the IDOC recognise that she is a woman,” said Vanessa del Valle of the MacArthur Justice Center.

She added: “This transfer, which occurred after a year of hard fought litigation and two emergency hearings, is a victory for her and a testament to her strength and courage. But IDOC has done nothing to remedy the systemic failures that created the persistent harm Strawberry has endured since she entered IDOC custody. The fight for Strawberry and for all trans women in IDOC has only just begun.”

More: Department of Corrections, Illinois, MacArthur Justice Center, Strawberry Hampton, US

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