It feels like every week we are faced with new accounts of abuse against transgender inmates by prison staff. So it’s with guarded optimism we view a ruling handed down last week that represents a small victory.
This past summer a Maryland judge agreed that the treatment constituted a violation of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) and awarded damages in the amount of $5,000 and mandated Maryland facilities to institute procedural changes to their treatment of transgender inmates. Aside from the individual and local impact of the ruling, this decision represents the first time when a transgender person has successfully sought relief under PREA.
Sandy Brown, who was serving a 5-year sentence for assault, had been sent to Patuxent Institution for a routine mental health evaluation, but wound up spending 60 days in solitary confinement for no other reason than that she is transgender. During that time she faced an unending barrage of insults and humiliations at the hands of prison officials—with one staff member going so far as to advise Brown to kill herself.
Witnesses from the institution claimed ignorance of PREA standards, and that they had received inadequate training on the treatment of transgender inmates, because apparently they need specific training to know that urging inmates to commit suicide and hurling insults at prisoners is “not appropriate.” In the wake of the decision officials for Maryland prisons have stated that there has been a “total shift in agency thinking” since then, and one can only hope this is true. But at the very least, a line has been drawn in the sand with this ruling that the abuse of transgender inmates cannot, and will not, be tolerated any longer.