A Transgender Woman Is Suing Massachusetts for the Right to Be in an All-Female Prison


A transgender woman has filed a suit against the Massachusetts Department of Correction for forcing her to serve her sentence in an all-male prison, where she says she’s been groped and taunted by both prisoners and correctional officers.

According to a report in the Boston Globe, the 52-year-old inmate—identified only as Jane Doe in court papers—is suing for the right to be transferred to a women’s prison. If she wins, she’ll become the first transgender woman to be housed with other women prisoners in the state.

Though the inmate identified herself as a woman when she reported to prison last October, officials told her she could not be placed in a women’s facility until she had sex reassignment surgery, despite the fact that she has lived openly as a woman and received hormone therapy for nearly 40 years, the lawsuit says. As an inmate in the men’s prison, the paper reports that “she has been forced to live, sleep, shower, and use the bathroom with male inmates at MCI-Norfolk, where male correctional officers strip-search her and refer to her and other transgender prisoners as ‘wannabe women.’” And:

In prison, the lawsuit says, the inmate has been subjected to constant humiliation. When she was strip-searched during a five-day lockdown in June, the lawsuit says, male guards forced her to stand, cuffed and naked for 30 minutes, in front of the open door to her cell, exposing her body to at least a dozen male prisoners who gawked and made crude sexual remarks about her breasts.

As Jennifer L. Levi, the director of the Transgender Rights Project at GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, told the paper:

“In 2017, it is a total shame that this state—with so much broader policy recognizing the humanity of transgender people—doesn’t recognize that humanity in our correction system,” Levi said. “They’re serving time for underlying offenses, but they’re not supposed to be punished for being transgender. That’s wrong.”

Federal guidelines stipulate that transgender inmates cannot be housed based solely on their anatomy, and that officials must give “serious consideration” to where inmates feel they’ll be safest. But advocates say that most state and local prisons have yet to adopt those rules, categorizing them instead on their genitals alone.

Massachusetts is far from the only state to maintain a retrograde policy toward transgender inmates. In 2015, the New York Times reported on the plight of Passion Star, who said she was raped and beaten for more than a decade while incarcerated at a men’s prison in Texas. What she told Jezebel at the time rings true now for Massachusetts, and undoubtedly other states:

“Texas says it has good policies” when it comes to trans inmates, Passion Star said. “But those policies aren’t followed or respected by people in positions of power.”

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