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Transgender inmate gets rare transfer to female prison

  • Illinois Department of Correction via ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Deon “Strawberry” Hampton, as seen in an undated photo. The transgender woman, who is serving a 10-year sentence in Illinois for burglary, has been moved from a men’s to a women’s prison in one of the first cases of its kind in the state.

CHICAGO >> A transgender woman serving a 10-year sentence in Illinois for burglary has been moved from a men’s to a women’s prison in what could be a first for the state, her lawyers announced today.

Deon “Strawberry” Hampton, 27, was moved after a yearlong legal battle and resistance from the Illinois Department of Corrections.

Hampton, of Chicago, requested the transfer in 2017 on grounds she’d be less vulnerable to the sexual assault, taunting and beatings she was subjected to in male prisons, according to federal lawsuits filed on her behalf by the MacArthur Justice Center and the Uptown People’s Law Center in Chicago.

She was moved within the past week from an all-male prison in Dixon, in northern Illinois, to the women’s Logan Correctional Center more than 100 miles away in central Illinois, her lawyers said.

The IDOC’s hand was forced last month by a federal court that found Hampton had a strong case that her equal-protection rights were violated. Her lawyers said it was only the second such ruling in the country by a federal court.

One of her attorneys, Vanessa del Valle, hailed the transfer as a victory for transgender rights. But she added that the IDOC still hasn’t fixed “systemic failures” that lead to abuse of transgender inmates.

“The fight for Strawberry and for all trans women in IDOC has only just begun,” del Valle said.

The IDOC confirmed the transfer in a brief statement today, adding that the agency “carefully considered Hampton’s housing placement before making the transfer.” In previous court filings, the IDOC said one concern was that Hampton would pose a risk to female inmates if moved.

Hampton described how guards and fellow inmates regularly singled her out for brutal treatment at Menard Correctional Center in southern Illinois and earlier at Pinckneyville Correctional Center. While at the Pinckneyville prison, she alleged guards made her and another transgender inmate perform sex acts on each other as guards hurled slurs and laughed.

Unable to comfortably represent herself as female in the male prison — where she couldn’t wear her hair or nails long — was devastating psychologically, according to one filing from her lawyers.

“I feel inhuman,” Hampton was quoted as saying.

While prison officials in most states do have the option of assigning male-to-female transgender inmates to women’s prisons, it happens infrequently. The latest available federal data from 2016 indicates there were no transgender female inmates in Illinois’ two female prisons; there were 28 transgender women in the state’s 24 male prisons.

In court filings, the IDOC also cast doubt on Hampton’s gender identity — alleging Hampton in initial sessions with prison health workers never claimed to be transgender and, in the words of one filing, “was OK with being male.”

But clinical psychiatrist George Brown said in a declaration to a federal court that Hampton showed all the features of someone convinced of their female identity, adding Hampton has identified as female since the age of 5.

Brown also challenged the department’s contention that Hampton could be a greater risk to women because she hasn’t had sex reassignment surgery, saying such a view “conflicts with all reliable medical literature.” He said Hampton’s low testosterone levels due to previous hormone treatments meant she was “functionally chemically castrated.”

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