SPRINGFIELD — A federal judge has ordered state corrections officers to undergo training on transgender issues, stemming from a lawsuit filed by an inmate who wants to be transferred to the women's prison in Lincoln.
Inmate Deon Hampton, who is known as Strawberry Hampton, identifies as a female and is being held in the segregation unit of Dixon Correctional Center, an all-male prison. Illinois' other women's prison is a minimum-security facility in Decatur.
Eighty transgender inmates are currently housed in Illinois prisons, according to IDOC.
Hampton, 27, has sued the state and IDOC officials, claiming she was subjected to harassment and sexual assault while housed at four male prisons during the past two years. She is serving a 10-year sentence for residential burglary in Cook County.
In a Nov. 7 ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Nancy J. Rosenstengel ordered the state to submit a training plan within 14 days for its officers. The judge for the U.S. District Court in East South Louis denied Hampton's request to be transferred to the Logan County facility.
That decision will be made after the IDOC's Transgender Care Review Committee considers evidence for and against such a transfer.
The judge also ordered that Hampton be allowed to attend a support group for transgender inmates, a privilege she has been denied because she is housed in segregation.
The ruling follows a three-day trial in September in which Hampton's lawyers presented evidence that Hampton, who lived as a female for years before her incarceration, was repeatedly assaulted and harassed by IDOC staff and other inmates.
Three complaints submitted by Hampton of sexual assault under the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) were substantiated, but there were no consequences for those responsible until a disciplinary hearing in April 2018 where an inmate was released from segregation for time served for assaulting Hampton. The release from the segregation unit was based on the need to protect Hampton from the inmate who was held in the same segregation unit where Hampton remained, according to IDOC.
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In her 36-page opinion, Rosenstengel referenced testimony from Justin Wilks, assistant warden of operations at Dixon. The warden "could not testify to anything done to protect Hampton after her PREA allegations were substantiated," the judge noted. The IDOC official said he was unaware of Hampton's harassment and assault claims.
The IDOC transgender committee never met with Hampton nor did its members consider the PREA complaints or the inmate's "personal sense of safety at Dixon," said the ruling.
Witnesses for IDOC argued that Hampton's basic needs are being met and that she is in a safe environment.
In a statement on the ruling, IDOC spokeswoman Lindsey Hess said the agency "maintains a strict zero tolerance policy towards all forms of sexual abuse and sexual harassment. While incarcerated within the IDOC, offender safety is paramount and all allegations of sexual abuse and harassment are taken seriously and investigated."
Housing assignments and the unique needs of transgender inmates are carefully considered, added Hess. Mental health experts for IDOC receive specialized training on transgender issues and "the development of training for all IDOC staff is underway," said Hess.
In a statement of behalf of Hampton's lawyers Sheila A. Bedi and Vanessa del Valle, the MacArthur Justice Center said the ruling "is an important first step for Strawberry because she desperately wanted to have her experience validated and to have the IDOC held accountable for all she's endured."
In granting Hampton's request for a preliminary injunction aimed at ending the misconduct, the judge said she agreed with Hampton "that her physical safety is at risk when she continues to be sexually assaulted and prison officials refuse to do anything to protect her."
The next step in the process includes a determination on whether a permanent injunction will be issued to correct the deficiencies outlined by the court.