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Transgender woman suing IDOC gets transfer to women's prison

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This undated photo provided by the Illinois Department of Correction shows Strawberry Hampton.

CARBONDALE — A year into a legal battle with the Illinois Department of Corrections, Strawberry Hampton, a transgender inmate who alleges she's been abused at state men's prisons — including Menard and Pinckneyville — has been transferred to a women's facility.

A news release from the Uptown People’s Law Center and the MacArthur Justice Center, both of which have been handling Hampton’s case, said that “within the past week, IDOC 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.”

Hampton sued IDOC in January seeking the transfer to a women's facility, where she argued she'd be less vulnerable to the sexual assault, taunting and beatings she says she experienced in male prisons.

Last month, a federal judge filed a preliminary injunction in Hampton’s suit against IDOC, granting her request to attend a support group while she is segregated from the general prison population. The judge also said IDOC must follow up in two weeks with ways it will better educate corrections officers on transgender rights.

Sheila Bedi of the MacArthur Justice Center said Hampton’s transfer was directly linked to the judge’s order last month. She said it was also important to note that the decision was only related to Hampton — it didn’t make any sweeping policy changes for IDOC.

“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 said in an email Thursday.

Federal data from 2016 indicates there were no transgender inmates housed in Illinois' women's prisons, while there were 28 transgender inmates in Illinois' 24 men's prisons.

Lindsey Hess, an IDOC spokeswoman, provided the following statement through email when asked for details regarding the decision to move Hampton and the status of the IDOC transgender policy changes:

“The Illinois Department of Corrections carefully considered Deon Hampton's housing placement before making the transfer. IDOC’s mental health professionals receive specialized training and ongoing consultation from a transgender expert. The development of training for all IDOC staff is underway.”

IDOC records still list Hampton's first name as Deon, although she goes by Strawberry.

Hampton has alleged that IDOC staff have continually misgendered her by referring to her using incorrect pronouns. Clinical psychiatrist George Brown testified during a September hearing in the case that misgendering transgender people is "mentally devastating." 

Hampton is currently serving a 10-year sentence for burglary.

Hampton has accused IDOC in multiple lawsuits of extensive abuse and discrimination because of her identity as a transgender woman — the 27-year-old has identified as female since she was 5.

She was most recently housed in the Dixon Correctional Center, the fourth men's prison where she has been incarcerated within the past year. In January, Hampton settled a case alleging abuses at the hands of officers in the Menard Correctional Center in Chester. She had been transferred there from the state prison in Pickneyville, where she alleged that guards routinely beat her and forced her to have sex with her cellmate for guard entertainment.

As previously reported in The Southern, as a result of the settlement, Hampton was moved from Menard to the Lawrence Correctional Center, but was ultimately moved to Dixon as alleged abuses continued.

While her transfer is good news for Hampton and her legal team, Alan Mills, executive director of Uptown People's Law Center, said this doesn’t negate any of the legal actions she has against IDOC.

“Both actions are proceeding,” Mills said of cases arising from alleged actions against Hampton both at the Pinckneyville Correctional Center and the other suit stemming from the Lawrence and Dixon facilities.

“Both … include claims for damages, as well as the request for injunctive relief. The damages claims remain pending; the injunctive claims may still be relevant, as they included obtaining proper mental health treatment.

“Hopefully, she will receive appropriate treatment at Logan, but it is clearly too soon to tell,” Mills said.

As to the status of IDOC’s court-ordered plan to change its policy regarding transgender inmates, Mills said there has been some progress made, but possibly not enough.

“They have submitted a plan,” Mills said. “We did not (think) it was sufficient; however, they admitted it was only the first step. We remain interested to ensure that the full plan is actually implemented.”

When asked, Mills said he wasn’t sure if Hampton was still placed in segregation at her new facility. She had been segregated from the general population at Dixon, which her lawyers previously said was a source of great mental anguish for Hampton, and went against medical directives from some doctors. Hess did not answer a question about whether Hampton was still in segregation. 

Mills said he only knew IDOC policy.

“However, under Department guidelines, a new plan should be created shortly after her transfer,” Mills wrote in an email Thursday. “We remain vigilant to ensure that her needs are met.”

As to what this means for the future treatment of transgender inmates, Mills said it was a good first step, but wasn’t sure if it would be the norm.

“We hope that this sets a precedent, but we will have to see how IDOC deals with the dozens of other trans people housed according to their genitalia,” as opposed to their identities, he said.

Testimony given earlier this year during one of Hampton’s emergency injunction hearings detailed the way in which IDOC has gone about handling transgender inmates and meeting the needs of people with gender dysphoria, a condition in which a person's biological sex does not align with his or her gender identity.

More inclusive plans from other states were cited during a January hearing in Benton. Dan Pacholke, an expert in correctional security, testified for Hampton and said IDOC’s Gender Identity Disorder Committee seemed more concerned with Hampton’s genitals rather than “her own concerns for personal safety.”

Testimony, as well as details from Hampton’s formal complaint, revealed that her incident report tickets were routinely disregarded and that she and other inmates lived in fear of retaliation from guards for speaking up about abuse.

In court filings, IDOC had cast doubt on Hampton's gender identity — alleging Hampton in initial session with prison health workers never claimed to be transgender and, in the words of one filing, "was OK with being male."

Clinical psychiatrist Brown said in a declaration to a federal court that Hampton showed all the features of someone convinced of their female identity.

Brown also challenged the department's contention that Hampton could be a greater risk to women because she hasn't had sex reassignment surgery, saying such a view "conflicts with all reliable medical literature." He said Hampton's low testosterone levels due to previous hormone treatments meant she was "functionally chemically castrated."

In the news release from Hampton’s legal team, Bedi said Hampton’s case is a strong indictment of prisons at large.

“Strawberry’s struggle to live free from sexual assaults and harassment while in IDOC custody demonstrates a fundamental truth about prisons — they are inherently violent and only create harm,” she said in the release.

According to the release, “Hampton’s case is the second case in the country in which a federal court has recognized that a prison’s decision to house transpeople in this manner is a form of unlawful discrimination”

Bedi also saw the significance of the decision to move Hampton.

“Strawberry’s transfer is a historic recognition that transwomen are women and that the IDOC must take action to protect transwomen from sexual violence and discrimination,” he wrote.

“Hopefully, the other transwomen in IDOC custody will not have to survive multiple sexual assaults and constant discrimination before the IDOC houses them appropriately.”

— Michael Tarm of The Associated Press contributed to this story.

— Editor's Note: This story has been updated to properly attribute quotes to Sheila Bedi of the MacArthur Justice Center.


On Twitter: @ismithreports


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