Illinois A transgender woman has filed a third lawsuit in federal court seeking immediate action to protect her from ongoing harassment and abuse at the hands of Illinois Department of Corrections ( IDOC ) guards.
Strawberry Hampton ( incarcerated under the name Deon Hampton ) is a 27-year old transgender woman currently incarcerated at Lawrence Correctional Center, a medium-security men's prison. Ms. Hampton has spent her entire sentence in men's prisons, where she has survived numerous sexual assaults and received constant harassment and threats. IDOC officials have consistently refused to acknowledge Ms. Hampton's gender identity and have repeatedly and deliberately placed her in environments detrimental to her physical, mental and emotional health.
Ms. Hampton has spent over nine months in solitary confinement as a result of retaliatory disciplinary tickets IDOC officials imposed upon her. She is now being kept alone in her cell 24 hours a day, with only occasional permission to leave her cell to take a shower.
"As a woman in a man's prison, Strawberry fights for her survival every day. Instead of protecting her and housing her in a woman's prison where she can be kept safe, IDOC officials have housed her with men, thrown her in segregation, and refused to provide her with the mental health care she needs. We tried to keep Strawberry safe without anther lawsuit. But IDOC officials ignored Strawberry's cries for help and protection. So now, Illinois taxpayer dollars will be wasted while IDOC attempts to defend these indefensible actions in court," said Vanessa del Valle, counsel for Ms. Hampton with MacArthur Justice Center.
The lawsuit, filed by the MacArthur Justice Center and the Uptown People's Law Center, details Ms. Hampton's constant harassment and abuse by officers, mental health staff, and prisoners since her arrival at Lawrence in early January 2018.
Officers have sexually harassed her, threatened her, and subjected her to verbal and physical abuse. Prison guards also have made it clear they will not protect her from prisoners who seek to do her harm: on one occasion, guards stood by and allowed a prisoner on the yard to expose his genitals and threaten to rape her.
"Strawberry's ordeal is all too common for trans women living behind bars," said Sheila Bedi, counsel with MacArthur Justice Center. "While women across the world are celebrating International Women's Day today and commemorating the bravery of women who are speaking out about sexual violence, Strawberry's constant struggle to live free from sexual assault and the torture of solitary confinement should reminds us all that the #metoo movement must penetrate the walls of our prisons and create freedom for Strawberryand thousands of other women and girls in her positionfrom the horror of sexual violence that is endemic to prison."
Since arriving at Lawrence, Ms. Hampton has attempted suicide multiple times while in solitary confinement. Despite her extreme emotional distress, the prison has offered no counseling, treatment, or interventions.
During one attempt, a prison guard who found her with a sheet around her neck told her to "stop acting like a crybaby diva." Following another attempt, she was stripped naked and placed on crisis watch, made even worse when the officers turned on the air conditioning in her cell in winter. Ms. Hampton also was punished for speaking up during mental health group counseling about the sexual harassment she had received.
Instead of responding appropriately to Ms. Hampton's reports of these continuing assaults, prison officials have continued to target her for punishment.
"IDOC has demonstrated that it cannot keep Strawberry safe in a men's prison, nor provide her the mental health care she needs to combat the effects of long-term solitary and assaults she has survived. Both the warden and the director refused to intervene to protect Ms. Hampton, so we are left with no choice but to enforce her rights through the courts. We will not allow IDOC to continually disregard its constitutional obligations," said Alan Mills, counsel with Uptown People's Law Center.
Ms. Hampton was originally placed at Lawrence Correctional Center as part of a settlement stemming from a previous lawsuit, filed after she was subjected to violent, cruel retaliation by guards at the Menard Correctional Center when she reported that guards had sexually assaulted her.
Having heard about Ms. Hampton's complaints against prison officers, Menard officials retaliated by beating and choking her on the bus ride to Menard, before she even set foot on the premises.. Once at the prison, her complaint to mental health staff was ignored, and she was immediately sent to solitary confinement.
The initial emergency order, filed in December 2017, included supporting testimony from other detainees who had witnessed her abuse, as well as a board certified psychiatrist, and an expert in penology. Due to the clear and immediate danger Ms. Hampton was in, a settlement was reached in order to secure her rapid transfer out of Menard. As part of the settlement, IDOC agreed to call a meeting of the Gender Identity Committee within 60 days to assess and determine her permanent placement.
"In January, out of fear for her life, and based on IDOC saying that staff at Lawrence knew how to keep trans women safe and meet their needs, Ms. Hampton accepted a settlement offer. But since then, Ms. Hampton has experienced multiple assaults and the IDOC has refused to take any action to move her to a women's prison or provide her with medically necessary care," said Bedi. "IDOC officials are well aware of Ms. Hampton's current crisis, but have refused to comply with the law and care for and protect Ms. Hampton. Further litigation was her only option to try to stop the abuse and get transferred to a women's prison."
Due to the imminent nature of the threat faced by Ms. Hampton, her counsel intend to request an emergency hearing of her case.
The suit details violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Illinois Hate Crimes Act.
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 nine pending class action lawsuits against the Illinois Department of Corrections.