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Trans Woman Imprisoned in Illinois Seeks Emergency Court Order to Protect Her From Ongoing Abuse and Retaliation

The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center and the Uptown People’s Law Center have asked the federal court for an emergency order to protect Strawberry Hampton (incarcerated under the name Deon Hampton) from further abuse and harassment at the hands of Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) employees. Ms. Hampton is a 26-year old transgender woman currently incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center. IDOC officials refuse to acknowledge that Ms. Hampton is a woman and insist on housing her in men’s prisons, where she has been repeatedly sexually assaulted by correctional officers.

After she filed complaints against the officers who assaulted her, the officers retaliated against her by placing her in solitary confinement. Once placed in solitary, another group of officers attacked Ms. Hampton, and they continue to harass and threaten her on a daily basis.

While in custody at Pinckneyville Correctional Center, Ms. Hampton was the victim of a series of sexual assaults in which a group of officers came to her cell, ordered her to strip to her underwear and forced her to perform sexual acts with her cellmate for the officers’ entertainment.

In response to her filing a complaint, guards wrote her false disciplinary tickets, sending her to solitary confinement for three months. These same officers continued to sexually harass and physically abuse her. During this time, she was denied her transgender support group, her phone privileges and, very often, even a shower. Officers withheld her food, and she lost 35 pounds. She continued to file multiple grievance reports detailing her abuse, but none were acted upon. Instead, she continued to be punished, accumulating so many false disciplinary tickets that she was transferred to Menard Correctional Center, a high security men’s prison.

Having heard about her complaints against prison officers, Menard officials began abusing her in retaliation before Ms. Hampton even set foot on the premises, beating and choking her on the bus ride to Menard. Once at the prison, her complaint to mental health staff was ignored, and she was immediately sent to solitary confinement. Due to the amount of fraudulent disciplinary tickets she has, she is currently sentenced to solitary confinement until April 2018.

“Strawberry’s story demonstrates the realities of prison life for many trans women,” said Sheila Bedi, one of her attorneys. “At this moment, when countless women in the free world are coming forward to tell their stories of sexual abuse with the #metoo hashtag, Strawberry has been thrown into solitary confinement and subjected to further abuse for speaking her truth about sexual violence. The ‘me too’ movement must create space for imprisoned survivors of sexual abuse. Our hope is the court will take immediate action to protect her, and will house her with other women where she can be protected from further abuse.”

Adding to the punishment of prolonged isolation was the abhorrent condition of the cell itself. The walls were covered in urine and feces, and lacked running water or a mattress, forcing Ms. Hampton to rely on a thin, molded foam pad. Denied cleaning supplies for a month, she was forced to live and sleep in filth.

“Correctional officers control every aspect of her life and in reporting her abusers, Strawberry demonstrated incredible bravery, said Vanessa del Valle, counsel for the plaintiff. “Once they learned of her complaints, instead of protecting Ms. Hampton, prison officials tried to silence and punish her. Not only that, but IDOC has repeatedly discriminated against her because she is a trans woman, denying her access to programming and services. These clear-cut violations of her federal rights require urgent action.”

One occasion, officers flooded her cell, called her derogatory slurs, and then physically beat her, all while their Lieutenant watched. When she simply tried to hang dry her sheets, she was given a disciplinary ticket and her bedding was confiscated. When she finally received sheets a month later, they were unwashed, filthy and smelled. On another occasion, she was placed in an infirmary cell with another prisoner with a known high aggressive level, who proceeded to beat her. Officers stood by, and even encouraged, the assault.

“Illinois prisons are violent places where coercion and the use of force are routine. But even viewed against this background, the treatment of Strawberry was nothing short of barbaric. Gendered bigotry should not be tolerated anywhere in society, but least of all in our prisons, which are supposed to be places of law, “ said Alan Mills of the Uptown People’s Law Center, co-counsel on the case.

The lawsuit requests Ms. Hampton be transferred to Logan Correctional Center, a women’s prison, to serve the remainder of her sentence in general population. In addition to holding accountable the specific officers who carried about the abuse, the lawsuit also names James Baldwin, director of the IDOC, and Jaqueline Lasbrook, warden of Menard, for not only allowing such practices to occur but, through deliberate indifference, effectively sanctioning them.

The suit details violations of the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments and the Illinois Hate Crimes Act. The suit also claims violations of Title IX and Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Act owing to her forced segregation depriving her of attending education, support or religious opportunities.

Along with the motion, attorneys filed several supporting exhibits, including multiple accounts from others detained (available here and here), as well as testimony from a board certified psychiatrist and an expert in penology

The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center was founded in 1985 and is one of the premier civil rights law firms in the United States, with offices in Chicago; St. Louis; New Orleans; and Oxford, MS. 

Uptown People's Law Center (UPLC) is a nonprofit legal services organization specializing in prisoners' rights, Social Security disability, and tenants' rights and eviction defense. UPLC has seven pending class action lawsuits against the Illinois Department of Corrections.

Keywords: LGBTQ, prisoners' rights, Sheila Bedi

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