Justice Department weighs in on Ashley Diamond lawsuit: Prison officials obligated to protect transgender prisoners from harm
Failure to provide transgender prisoners with a safe environment or adequate medical care constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment, the U.S. Justice Department said last week.
In a statement of interest filed in the case of Ashley Diamond, a Black transgender woman who sued the Georgia Department of Corrections in November, the Justice Department said it’s not taking a position on the facts of Diamond’s case.
However, the department noted that the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution “requires prison officials to conduct individualized 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,” they said, writing that not housing inmates in facilities that align with their gender identity risks such serious harm.
Diamond has been sexually assaulted repeatedly in the last year, according to the November lawsuit. She also has been subjected to relentless sexual harassment and once again denied necessary treatment for her gender dysphoria, according to the filing.
She also said in her complaint that the Georgia Department of Corrections failed to provide her with adequate medical treatment for her gender dysphoria.
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“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.
Ezie also said that since Diamond filed the lawsuit in November, she’s also been the victim of retaliation — her records have been tampered with and a series of disciplinary reports have pushed her release date back a year.
Diamond’s lawyers have asked in April court filings to order prison officials to move her to a women’s prison and to provide her with necessary medical treatment for her gender dysphoria. A hearing on those requests is set for next month.
Ezie hopes that the statement will be a “very persuasive authority for the court.”
“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.”
Ashley Diamond has sued the Georgia Department of Corrections, for the second time, for repeated abuse. (Photo: Robin Henson, Southern Poverty Law Center)
In 2015, Diamond alleged that the Georgia Department of Corrections had illegally cut off hormone treatment she had been taking for half her life. She also said that she was sexually assaulted and mistreated multiple times by both inmates and jail guards.
The department changed its treatment policy after the Department of Justice got involved, writing in a brief that prison officials must give hormone therapy just as they would treat any other medical or mental health condition.
The Georgia Department of Corrections released Diamond on parole in August 2015 and reached a settlement in her lawsuit. She was returned to prison on a parole violation in October 2019.
Both times, Diamond, now 43, has been placed in a men’s prison. And many of the treatment reforms only existed on paper, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights.
“Being a woman in a men’s prison is a nightmare,” Diamond said in a November statement. “I’ve been stripped of my identity. I never feel safe. Never. I experience sexual harassment on a daily basis, and the fear of sexual assault is always a looming thought.”
Transgender people have historically been targeted for violence and abuse because of their gender identity, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality.
Transgender people are 10 times more likely to be sexually assaulted by their fellow inmates and five times as likely to be sexually assaulted by staff, according to the NCTE.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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