Friday, April 10, 2015
Transgender Prisoners: Abuse, Lawsuits and "Freeze Frame" Policies
Orange Is The New Black's Sophia (played by LaVerne Cox) has access to hormone therapy and is assigned to a woman's prison. Reality for most transgender prisoners is quite different. For prisoners who have not had male to female surgery, chances are that they will be assigned to a male prison where their risk of violent attacks is heightened. The National Center for Transgender Equality reports that women in male prisons are thirteen times more likely to be sexually assaulted. A frequently cited California study reports that 59% of transgender incarcerated women report at least one assault. The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that 40% of transgender prisoners have been sexually assaulted.
Ashley Diamond is one such prisoner. She had taken hormones for 17 years prior to entering prison in Georgia. She was nonetheless assigned to a male prison where she was promptly denied all hormone therapy because the admitting prison officials failed to note her transgender status on her intake forms. Many prisons follow a "freeze frame" policy. That is, whatever treatment the transgender prisoner was receiving at the time of incarceration would determine the level of treatment to be provided during the term of incarceration. Ashley Diamond, represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center, is suing the Georgia Prison system seeking appropriate treatment for herself as well as a change in prison policy. The Justice Department supports her lawsuit and has intervened. The Obama administration, in settlement of a lawsuit, ended the freeze frame policy in federal prisons. According to the New York Times article, the administration announced that "hormone therapy to be necessary medical care, saying Georgia, and other states, must treat “gender dysphoria” like any other health condition and provide 'individual assessment and care'."
Ms. Diamond has suffered sexual assaults and sexual harassment since her incarceration. May her bravery in filing suit result in the restoration of proper treatment.