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Illinois prison officials move transgender woman to women’s prison

CHICAGO – The Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) has moved Strawberry Hampton, a 27-year-old transgender woman, from the all-male prisons where she was held, to Logan Correctional Center, a women’s prison. This comes after a year of IDOC rejecting Ms. Hampton and her lawyers’ pleas, and opposing a lawsuit that sought this transfer. Ms. Hampton has suffered repeated abuse and sexual assaults in various male prisons.

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

“We are glad to see that Strawberry has been moved to a prison where she has a chance to be safe, and to receive the health care she needs. We look forward to the day when every prisoner can feel safe in all of Illinois’ prisons. The Uptown People’s Law Center is committed to continuing to work to ensure that Strawberry and all Illinois’ prisoners are safe and receive the medical and mental health care they need,” said Alan Mills, executive director of Uptown People’s Law Center.

In December 2017, the MacArthur Justice Center and the Uptown People’s Law Center filed the first in a series of federal lawsuits seeking an order to protect Strawberry Hampton from repeated sexual assaults and harassment by correctional officers. In November 2018, U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Rosenstengel ordered IDOC to re-evaluate its denial of Hampton’s request for transfer to a women’s prison, and ordered IDOC to develop training on transgender issues for all staff.

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, Illinois.

Ms. Hampton’s lawsuits against IDOC detail the extent of the inappropriate treatment, which includes:

  • Extensive periods of solitary confinement based on false allegations of rules violations;
  • Prolonged isolation in cells covered with urine and feces and without running water or a mattress;
  • A series of sexual assaults by a group of officers, who ordered her to strip to her underwear and forced her to perform sexual acts with her cellmate for the officers’ entertainment;
  • Being called derogatory terms by staff, who targeted her for punishment and referred to her as “faggot,” “it,” and “he-she;”
  • Pepper spray shot at her face while she was rolled up in a ball on the floor crying;
  • Being groped by fellow prisoners, who threatened to rape and kill her;
  • Denial of phone privileges and attendance at her transgender support group; and
  • Dismissal of her grievance reports about the abuse, and complaints to mental health staff ignored.

In November 2018, after an emergency hearing, the federal court ruled that Ms. Hampton was likely to succeed on the merits of her claim that the IDOC violated her rights under the Equal Protection clause by placing her in the facility of her assigned birth. Ms. 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.

“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,” said Sheila Bedi of the MacArthur Justice Center. “Strawberry doesn’t belong in a women’s prison, she belongs at home with her family. But until she’s home, the very least the IDOC can do is to take this step towards remedying the discrimination and sexual violence Strawberry currently lives with on a daily basis.”

Press release from Uptown People’s Law Center

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