White House says putting trans inmates in the wrong prisons is ‘cruel and unusual punishment’
The White House says that incarcerating trans women in men’s prisons risks serious harm and is unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment.
The US Justice of Department made the statement in a legal brief about Ashley Diamond, the trans woman who is suing the state of Georgia after being repeatedly sexually assaulted and denied healthcare while in men’s prisons.
Noting it was not taking a position on the facts of Diamond’s case, the DOJ said that the Eight Amendment “requires prison officials to conduct individualised assessments that lead to reasonably safe conditions of confinement and adequate medical care for all prisoners”.
“Prison officials violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment if they are deliberately indifferent to conditions of confinement that pose a substantial risk of serious harm to prisoners,” the DOJ said, adding that not housing inmates in facilities that align with their gender identity risks such serious harm.
Diamond, represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Southern Poverty Law Center, filed a lawsuit against the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC) in November, alleging that the department has failed to protect her from sexual assault and has not provided adequate healthcare during her incarceration.
Diamond’s lawsuit comes just five years after she sued the GDC over abusive conditions faced by trans prisoners in Georgia prisons. She won that case, and the GDC was rebuked by a federal court and the US Department of Justice for its treatment of trans people.
Diamond also said that the GDC had illegally cut off the hormone replacement therapy she had been taking for half her life – after she won, the GDC rewrote its policy stating that trans prisoners must be given hormones just as other prisoners are given treatment for medical or mental-health reasons.
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She was released on parole in August 2015, but re-entered a Georgia prison in October 2019 following a technical parole violation.
While Diamond won her 2015 case, she was once again incarcerated in a men’s prison when she re-entered the system in 2019.
Since then, she has been sexually assaulted more than 14 times. In her lawsuit, she accused the GDC of failing to protect her, and said the department knowingly put her in danger when it placed her in a men’s prison.
“Up till now, there has been grossly inadequate and unconstitutionally insufficient medical treatment provided, which has led Ms Diamond to experience really catastrophic symptoms [of] gender dysphoria for months on end, without any relief from corrections officials,” said Chinyere Ezie, one of Diamond’s lawyers and senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights.
“To our knowledge, there has never been such a clear statement about prison officials’ obligations to transgender people in their custody,” she said. “It’s going to be meaningful, not just for Ashley Diamond’s case, but to all people who are trans and incarcerated who are seeking just the bare minimum of constitutional rights that they’re entitled to.”
Trans people are 10 times more likely to be sexually assaulted by fellow inmates and five times as likely to be sexually assaulted by staff, according to the NCTE.