A judge has ruled that Sandy Brown, a transgender inmate at the Patuxent state prison in Maryland, was mistreated by corrections officers who watched her shower, harassed and mocked her and referred to her as ‘it’ in a legal victory which requires the Maryland prison system to promote better training for handling transgender prisoners.
Brown was placed in the state prison in February 2014 for psychological screening. Brown said in her grievance that she was placed in solitary confinement for 66 days, against the directive of the warden not to segregate her from the general population. While in solitary confinement, Brown experienced serious harassment from corrections officers, including one who told her she should kill herself.
‘She told me I should kill myself,’ Brown said, ‘and that I’m not a woman, that I’ll never be her.’
Brown was also referred to by the guards as ‘some kind of animal’, adding, ‘They didn’t see me for the human being I am; they treated me like a circus act. I understand how animals at the zoo feel now. They gawked, pointed, made fun of me, and tried to break my spirit. These were people I’d never met, people I’d never done anything to.’
Judge Denise Oakes Shaffer ruled that Brown’s treatment violated the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act (2003) which was created to ‘provide for the analysis of the incidence and effects of prison rape in Federal, State and local institutions and to provide information, resources, recommendations and funding to protect individuals from prison rape.’
Judge Schaffer said the prison ‘failed to train all employees in how to effectively and professionally communicate with transgender inmates’.
Schaffer went on to state that the corrections officers ‘created a hostile environment’ and noted that Patuxent violated the law by not having policies in place to deal with transgender prisoners.
‘The majority of Patuxent’s witnesses specifically testified that they never had any training with how to work with transgender inmates and further testified that Patuxent did not have any policies in place to provide such guidance,’ Judge Shaffer wrote.
Judge Shaffer later added that the prison’s security chief did not know that there are specific requirements by federal law regarding transgender inmates.
Rebecca Earlbeck, an attorney at FreeState Legal Project, a legal aid organization providing services to low-income LGBT people, said, ‘This ruling forces the entire state corrections system to adopt a clear policy for the treatment of transgender inmates regarding searches, housing, and interaction with transgender inmates. Just as importantly, the ruling also requires mandatory state training on these policies.’
In a statement by Brown released after the ruling, Brown said she hopes that recent legal victories such as hers would give other incarcerated trans women hope: ‘To the other transgender and intersex women behind bars, don’t give up. There is hope out there for us.’
The United States does not currently keep information on the number of transgender people in the Unites States prison system.