Content Warning: This article details extreme abuse against a transgender person.
It took four lawsuits and a judge’s order, but transgender inmate Strawberry Hampton has been moved to a women’s prison in Illinois.
Hampton’s case has drawn national attention in one of the most serious transgender prison abuse cases ever alleged. Last month, U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Rosenstengel excoriated the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) for ignoring “substantiated” sexual abuse complaints while denying Hampton’s requests to be housed with women.
Rosenstengel ordered IDOC to train its staff on transgender issues and re-evaluate Hampton’s placement, noting that prison staff “never considered whether Hampton felt safe or secure in a men’s prison.”
Rosenstengel added that prison staff also never met with Hampton to interview her about her placement, a finding that raises questions about Illinois’ compliance with with federal prison law.
Federal law mandates that state prisons place transgender people on a case-by-case basis. The Prison Rape Elimination Act, passed in 2003, requires prisons to interview transgender inmates about where they think they should be placed in terms of gender and to house them where they will be safest.
Hampton, however, alleged abuse behind bars so extreme that some of it cannot be published in print. The 27-year-old filed four lawsuits in which she claimed that guards at Pinckneyville Correctional Center sexually assaulted her and then forced her and a cellmate to have sex.
When she reported the abuse, she was beaten and held in solitary confinement for a year, she says. Sexual, verbal, and physical torment continued at three other men’s prisons, she claims.
IDOC did not respond to a request to comment. But Lindsey Hess, a spokesperson for the department, previously told INTO that IDOC has a zero tolerance policy for sexual abuse.
“The Department maintains 100% compliance with the national standards of the Prison Rape Elimination Act as determined by certified independent privately contracted auditors,” Hess said in an email. “The Department carefully considers housing assignments and the unique needs of offenders who identify as transgender.”
Hampton’s case against IDOC remains pending. She is seeking damages from the department, and her attorneys are demanding that she have access to mental health services while in custody. She is due to be released in November 2019.
It is unknown how many other transgender women have been placed in women’s facilities in Illinois. Alan Mills, executive director of Uptown People’s Law Center, which fought Hampton’s case, said he knows of at least one other trans woman who was previously housed at Logan Correctional Center, the women’s prison where Hampton now resides.
“It means that [Hampton] is no longer subject to the daily harassment and pressure that is inevitable when a woman is placed in a man’s prison,” Mills said. However, he added, “Our hope is that this will not be a one-off occasion.”
Vanessa del Valle of the MacArthur Justice Center, which also represented Hampton, echoed that sentiment in a statement.
“IDOC has done nothing to remedy the systemic failures that created the persistent harm Strawberry has endured since she entered IDOC custody,” del Valle said. “The fight for Strawberry and for all trans women in IDOC has only just begun.”