A judge has ordered all prison staff in the state of Illinois to undergo training on transgender issues following a lawsuit by a transgender inmate.
Deon ‘Strawberry’ Hampton, a transgender inmate said she felt like a ‘sex slave’ while incarcerated at several men’s prisons in Illinois, and that she had been the victim of repeated abuse and sexual assault from both guards and inmates.
Hampton, who is serving a ten-year sentence for burglary, sued the Illinois Department of Corrections numerous times over the past year while requesting a transfer to a women’s prison, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Her request for transfer had previously been denied. But following her lawsuit, a federal judge ordered prison officials to reevaluate her request.
US District Court Judge Nancy Rosenstengel also ruled that there should be mandatory training on transgender issues for all prison staff in the state.
Vanessa del Valle, an attorney who represented Hampton, said the ruling was a victory for all incarcerated transgender women.
‘This is an important step, not only for Strawberry but in general for transgender women imprisoned across the nation,’ said del Valle.
The Department of Corrections has 14 days to report back with a training plan.
High rates of physical and sexual assault
While transgender women are permitted to serve custodial sentences in female prisons, it is highly uncommon.
According to federal data, in 2016 there were no transgender women serving their sentences in female prisons in Illinois. 28 trans inmates were housed in the state’s male penitentiaries.
Transgender inmates report high rates of physical abuse and sexual assault while incarcerated, according to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey.
Around one in four of those surveyed reported being physically assaulted by inmates and/or staff, and one in five said they had been sexually abused.
The survey also said that, compared to the rest of the incarcerated population, transgender inmates were five times more likely to be sexually abused by prison officials, and nine times more likely to be sexually assaulted by other inmates.
‘Prisons are far behind where we are at in society,’ said del Valle.
‘There has to be a lot of training in working with transgender inmates, to learn how to deal with their very specific needs and to learn how to deal with the discrimination they face,’ she added.
The ongoing fight for transgender rights
The ruling on Hampton’s case comes amid an ongoing fight for transgender rights in correctional facilities across the US.
In May, the Trump administration repealed Obama-era legislation which protected the rights of transgender inmates.
The move came after several female inmates in Texas filed a federal lawsuit arguing that being housed alongside transgender inmates was a potential danger to other inmates, and also violated privacy rights.
The Trump administration also faced backlash after a leaked memo from the Department of Health and Human Services proposed restricting the definition of sex to genitalia at birth, which critics said would effectively legally erase transgender people.