Metro Weekly

Federal court orders Illinois prisons to overhaul how they deal with transgender inmates

Prison officials must undergo further training and recognize inmates' gender identity for housing and medical treatment

Photo: Paweł Czerwiński, via Unsplash.

A federal judge has ruled that the state of Illinois must overhaul all of its procedures and protocols dealing with how it processes, books, and incarcerates transgender inmates in response to a federal class-action lawsuit.

The lawsuit, brought last year by Janiah Monroe, an inmate in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections, and five other transgender women, alleged that Monroe and the other plaintiffs were sexually harassed by fellow inmates and correctional staff, and were denied treatment for gender dysphoria that had been deemed medically necessary, in violation of their Eight Amendment right to be free from “cruel or unusual punishment.”

At least three of the women, including Monroe, have attempted self-harm, suicide, or self-castration, and another suffers from depression and anxiety due to having been denied access to affirming care. Monroe, who had been housed in a men’s prison for more than a decade since age 19, was recently relocated to a women’s correctional facility in April. 

U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Rosenstengal, of the Southern District of Illinois, issued a court order earlier this month requiring the Department of Corrections to amend its practices for dealing with transgender inmates, and recognize transgender inmates’ preferred gender identity. That means, for instance, that prisons can no longer assign inmates based on their genitalia, or their physical size or appearance.

Rosenstengal’s ruling also orders correctional staff to stop “cross-gendered strip searching,” in which male staff inspect and probe the orifices of trans females, and to undergo additional sensitivity training, reports The Hill.

Under Rosenstengal’s ruling, transgender inmates will be granted free access to hormone therapy, and will be provided with materials to help their transition, including clothing, gender-affirming canteen items, and grooming advice.

Department of Corrections officials have until Jan. 22 to demonstrate what steps they’ve taken to conform to the order. 

The American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the women, has hailed the court’s decision as a victory for transgender inmates.

“This is a sweeping victory for our clients, who have been subject to unspeakable harm by a Department of Corrections that has truly been deliberately indifferent to our clients’ suffering,” Ghirlandi Guidetti, an attorney with the ACLU of Illinois, said in a statement. “We look forward to ensuring that [the Illinois Department of Corrections] complies with the order without any delay so that all prisoners who have gender dysphoria in Illinois will receive humane and professional treatment.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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