Metro Weekly

Prisoner sues Georgia Department of Corrections for failing to fix anti-trans policies

Ashley Diamond claims Georgia Department of Corrections has failed to abide by terms of an earlier 2016 settlement

Ashley Diamond – Photo: Robin Henson/Southern Poverty Law Center

A transgender female inmate has sued the Georgia Department of Corrections for a second time for failing to protect her from sexual assault or provide her with adequate health care, alleging the department did nothing to change its problematic policy.

Ashley Diamond, a Black transgender woman, was incarcerated in at least three separate state prisons beginning in 2012.

She had received hormone therapy to help with her transition prior to being imprisoned, and, under the department’s “freeze-frame” policy, should have continued to receive hormones.

But Department of Corrections officials did not identify her as transgender on her intake forms, thereby making her ineligible to continue the therapy. She was also placed in men’s facilities because she was misgendered on her intake form.

In February 2015, Diamond sued the department, alleging that their denial of care violated her Eighth Amendment rights and had only exacerbated her gender dysphoria when she began losing her female secondary sex characteristics.

The despair over her gender dysphoria led her to attempt suicide and self-castration multiple times.

Diamond also claimed in the lawsuit that during her time at Valdosta State Prison, officials told her they didn’t have the means to protect transgender inmates. Staff instructed her to “guard your booty” and be prepared to fight other inmates.

She claimed she was placed in solitary confinement as punishment for presenting as a woman, and was repeatedly misgendered, ridiculed by guards in front of other inmates, and ordered to adhere to male gender norms.

In February 2016, Diamond’s lawyers, with the Southern Poverty Law Center, reached a settlement with the Department of Corrections.

As part of the settlement, the department agreed to pay Diamond an undisclosed financial amount, rescind its “freeze-frame” policy, adopt a sexual assault prevention policy that is in line with federal standards, and provide cultural competency training to prison staffers. 

Diamond was released from prison in 2015 after the lawsuit was filed, but re-entered the custody of the department following a parole violation in 2019.

Yet despite the previous settlement, Diamond alleges that none of the reforms to which the department agreed are being carried out in practice.

She claims she has been housed in men’s prisons, where she has been sexually assaulted more than 14 times in the past year, at the hands of fellow inmates and staffers.

In one instance, on the day before Diamond moved into the dorm in a second men’s prison where she had been transferred, an officer called a dormitory-wide meeting and announced her transgender status to other inmates, describing her as a “freak,” “he” and “it.” Shortly afterwards, Diamond was assaulted.

She also claims she has been provided inconsistent access to medical care, including hormone therapy, needed to treat her gender dysphoria, and has been subjected to sexual harassment, leading her to attempt suicide once more.

See also: New York City settles wrongful death lawsuit from trans woman’s family for $5.9 million

As a result of her treatment, she sued the department a second time last week, alleging in her complaint that the department’s failure to fix its policies — resulting in her victimization and the denial of affirming health care — violates her right to be free from “cruel and unusual punishment” under the Eighth Amendment, and her right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“Being a woman in a men’s prison is a nightmare,” Diamond said in a statement. “I’ve been stripped of my identity. I never feel safe. Never. I experience sexual harassment on a daily basis, and the fear of sexual assault is always a looming thought. I’m bringing this lawsuit to bring about change on behalf of a community that deserves the inherent dignity to simply exist.”

“I never thought I would be partnering with Ashley Diamond to sue Georgia for a second time,” Chinyere Ezie, an attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, who represented Diamond in her original 2015 lawsuit while working at the SPLC. “However, little has changed since 2015 when it comes to the abuse and neglect of transgender people in GDC custody.”

“We sued Georgia prisons on Ashley’s behalf before and, unfortunately, we’re having to sue again to end the abhorrent treatment of transgender people, particularly transgender women of color, in Georgia’s prisons,” Beth Littrell, a senior attorney for the SPLC, said in a statement.

“Five years after changing its policies in response to our first lawsuit, GDC tragically continues to flout its legal obligations to protect transgender people in its custody. The assaults and threats that Ashley continues to face on a daily basis are based on the fact that she is a woman in a men’s prison — it’s intolerable and inexcusable.”

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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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