Justice Dept. Files Brief on Behalf of Trans Woman in Georgia Prison
The US Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a brief today on behalf of a transgender woman being denied medical care and protection from abuse in a Georgia prison. The government “Statement of Interest” argues that the Georgia’s “freeze-frame” policy, limiting transgender prisoners to only receiving medical care that was prescribed prior to their incarceration, is unconstitutional on its face. The brief points to case law from several federal appeals courts that have said that all prisoners and all medical conditions—including transgender people with gender dysphoria—must receive necessary medical care, and such care cannot be limited for non-medical reasons.
Before entering the custody of the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDOC), Ashley Diamond had been living as a woman and taking hormone medications for over 17 years. GDOC placed her in a maximum-security men’s prison, discontinued her medication, denied her a bra or any ability to express her gender identity, and forced her to live as a man. According to her lawsuit, filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, since entering GDOC custody in 2012 she has been thrown into solitary confinement for “pretending to be a woman,” had her female clothing confiscated, and been told continually to “act like a man.” She has also been repeatedly sexually assaulted. GDOC has ignored her persistent pleas for protection and medical care have been denied, even after she desperately attempted self-castration and suicide, and in spite of the recommendations of medical staff.
The DOJ’s statement of interest discusses the unconstitutionality of “freeze-frame” policies, which is a policy that prohibits treatment beyond the type of care the prisoner received in the community prior to incarceration, and that is treatment proscribed by a physician. Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta of the Civil Rights Division stated that “prisoners with gender dysphoria should not be forced to suffer needlessly during their incarceration simply because they were not receiving care, or could not prove they were receiving care, in the community. Freeze-frame policies can have serious consequences to the health and well-being of transgender prisoners, who are among the most vulnerable populations incarcerated in our nation’s prisons and jails.”
The brief comes on the heels of a federal district court ruling yesterday ordering California prison officials to provide surgical treatment for a transgender woman with severe gender dysphoria. In that case, filed by the Transgender Law Center, the court concluded that California officials illegally maintained a blanket policy against surgical treatment no matter what medical staff or clinical standards said.
The United States leads the world in incarceration rates, and transgender people, especially Black and Latino trans people, are imprisoned at higher rates. According to federal surveys, a trans prisoner has a greater than one-in-three chance of being raped in one year behind bars. NCTE supports advocates around the country in working for the rights of transgender prisons, and last year published Standing with LGBT Prisoners: An Advocate’s Guide to Ending Abuse and Combating Imprisonment.