Activists Defend DC Jail’s Treatment of Trans Inmates

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Longtime local transgender advocates Earline Budd and Jeri Hughes, who served for more than a decade on the DC Department of Corrections’ Transgender Housing and Transgender Advisory Committees, say they’ve witnessed what they believe to be the role of the DC prison in leading the nation in its policies supporting transgender inmates.

The two said that around 2009, the DC prison became one of the first correctional facilities in the nation to adopt a policy allowing transgender inmates to choose to be placed in the male or female housing units.

In a claim that will likely surprise LGBTQ activists, Budd and Hughes said that more than 95% of transgender female inmates in DC prison chose to be placed in the male section of the prison.

Budd and Hughes said they were motivated to speak out about DOC’s trans policies following a class action lawsuit filed last year against the city by the ACLU of DC and the DC Public Defender Service on behalf of a transgender inmate at DC prison.

The lawsuit accused Department of Corrections and Jail officials of violating the gender identity provision of the city’s Human Rights Act and constitutional rights to equal protection. of trans inmate Sunday Hinton by placing her in the prison’s male living unit against her will. in May 2021.

Hinton and five other former trans inmates at the prison submitted sworn affidavits in the trial claiming their requests to be housed in the women’s section of the prison were denied or prison officials coerced them. to agree to be placed in the men’s section. . The affidavits indicate that the alleged inappropriate action by prison officials against the six trans women took place between 2019 and 2021.

Hinton has since been released from jail after a burglary charge against her was dropped.

The DC Attorney General’s Office, which represents the city in the lawsuits, and Hinton reached a settlement agreement last month to end the lawsuit. The DOC agreed in the settlement, among other things, to put in place policies to ensure that trans inmates can choose which section of the prison they should be housed in.

The agreement keeps in place existing DOC policies calling for the Transgender Housing Committee to review all requests for trans housing and make a recommendation on the request, with prison security officials making the final decision on where. where to place the trans inmate.

Hughes told the Washington Blade that for the past decade or more, DOC and prison officials have followed the recommendations of the Transgender Housing Committee, whose members include representatives from the trans community.

She points out that the committee’s objective is to confirm that a trans inmate who applies for accommodation in the women’s section of the prison is indeed a transgender person and not an inmate claiming to be trans with the possible motive of sexually assaulting or otherwise endanger cisgender female prisoners.

According to Budd and Hughes, at the request of LGBTQ rights advocates, the DOC adopted a policy in 2009 that allowed transgender inmates to choose to be placed in the male or female section of the prison. They said the policy, which created the DOC’s Transgender Housing Committee as well as a Transgender Advisory Committee, called for the housing committee to review inmate housing applications to assess the safety of trans inmates and all other detained.

“You can’t just say I’m trans and go to the women’s prison,” Hughes said. “You have to have an assessment. You need to be determined – OK, you’re legit. You live as a woman. You are transgender,” Hughes told The Blade.

Hughes and Budd said the allegations raised in Sunday Hinton’s lawsuit, if true, appear to be a violation of the DOC’s and DC prison’s long-standing policy of allowing trans inmates to choose to be placed in the men’s or women’s section of the prison. Budd said restrictions put in place at the prison in response to the COVID pandemic have resulted in the suspension of all meetings of the Transgender Housing Committee.

But she said she understood that a prison official, a member of the transgender housing committee, met individually with trans inmates to determine their preference for a housing assignment. Budd said the manager, whom she identified as Tracy Outlaw, also helps transgender inmates get things they need, such as women’s underwear like bras and hormone treatments.

“What I can say is that the prison does not and has not abused transgender inmates who come to prison, and they get the utmost respect from the population,” Budd said. .

When asked to explain their claim that almost all trans inmates choose to be placed in the male section of the prison, Budd and Hughes said that trans inmates are treated with more respect by others. detained than by detainees.

“In the men’s section of the prison, they have a certain status,” Hughes said. “They are desirable. In the women’s section, they are undesirable. So there’s no benefit for them to be there,” according to Hughes. “And almost all [trans] A girl who has already asked to go to the women’s section stays there for about a week and asks to come back right away” to the men’s section, Hughes said.

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Keena Blackmon provided Blade with an update on the DOC’s transgender policies following the lawsuit settlement, but she did not respond to Blade’s request for confirmation of Budd and Hughes’ claim that nearly all transgender female inmates request to be housed in the male section of the DC prison.

“While the DC Department of Corrections (DOC) does not comment on specifics of litigation matters, DOC is committed to ensuring a safe, secure, and inclusive environment for all of our residents, including our transgender, intersex residents. and not gender-conforming. Blackmon said in an email. “The DOC formed the Transgender Advisory Committee (TAC), which serves as a liaison between the DOC and the transgender community and also internally created the Transgender Housing Committee (THC)” , she said.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated a multitude of operational changes to ensure the health and well-being of all DOC residents and staff and has affected THC’s ability to operate in its normal capacity,” Blackmon said. . “As we have met the challenges of the pandemic, we have continued to adopt both our policies and our practices to ensure that we meet our commitment set out above while meeting the public health needs of everyone in our facilities. DOC and we will continue to do so,” she mentioned.

Scott Michelman, legal director for the ACLU of DC who served as lead counsel representing Sunday Hinton in his lawsuit against the DOC, said the actions of DC prison officials toward Hinton and the five trans inmates who joined in the class action lawsuit has raised serious doubts about any claims that the DOC had policies in place to support trans people – at least from 2019 to early 2021.

Michelman points out that Tracy Outlaw, one of the DOC officials on the transgender housing committee who Budd says supported trans inmates, is charged in one of the sworn affidavits submitted by a trans inmate who was part of the lawsuit. of Hinton for refusing to help the inmate to be placed in the women’s section of the prison. Michelman said another DOC official “coerced” Hinton into signing a form waiving her right to be placed in the women’s section of the prison.

“These actions, among others, undermine the claim that DOC was doing the right thing for trans people starting in 2021,” Michelman said. “If the DOC wants to protect trans women, it can start by complying with the settlement terms reached in the Sunday Hinton case,” he said.

Budd said that while any DOC staff member should be held accountable for violating DOC transgender policies, she strongly disputes claims that Tracy Outlaw coerced a trans inmate into being housed in the men’s section of the prison.

“What I’m not going to do is go back and forth on this case,” Budd told The Blade. “The thing is, the ACLU and the attorneys are only looking for one side of this story,” which she said was that of the trans inmates who were part of the Hinton trial.

“It’s not fair for these allegations to come up again and we are unable to share our side of the story, which is totally different,” she said. “I have been and continue to be a transgender advocate and will support even those who have sought to put me down.”

DOC critics have pointed out that many of the problems faced by the DC prison emerged under the tenure of former DOC warden Quincy Booth, who served as warden from 2016 until January of this year, when the Mayor Muriel Bowser replaced him with former DOC director Tom Faust. Faust served as director from 2011 to 2016 during the years Budd and Hughes said the DOC introduced or strengthened its trans support policies.

Bowser’s decision to replace Booth came shortly after the Federal Bureau of Prisons transferred 400 inmates from the DC prison to a federal prison in Pennsylvania after announcing that a prison inspection by U.S. Marshals had found “systematic evidence of failure” and unacceptable prison conditions. .

Budd said that soon after Faust started as acting director of the DOC, he invited her to meet with him to discuss trans issues at the prison.

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