Ashley Diamond, the 37-year-old black transgender woman whose federal lawsuit against the Georgia Department of Corrections alleged the prison's denial of her hormone therapy and failure to protect her from repeated sexual assault to be "cruel and unusual punishment," was released from prison today.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has been representing Diamond in her suit, Diamond was released from Augusta State Medical Prison to members of her family at 8:45 a.m. today.
"I'm overjoyed to be with my family again and out of harm's way," Diamond said in a statement shared by SPLC. "Although the systematic abuse and assaults I faced for more than three years have left me emotionally and physically scarred, I'll continue to fight for justice and to shine a light on the gross mistreatment of transgender inmates in Georgia and nationwide."
Diamond had already served three years of an 11-year sentence stemming from a nonviolent offense in 2012. Despite identifying as a woman at the time she was incarcerated, Diamond was consistently housed with men, and she reported several instances of sexual assault inside the numerous Georgia facilities where she was housed. The most recent allegation of sexual assault was revealed in July, when Diamond claimed a cellmate assaulted her and threatened to kill her.
Diamond also alleges that prison officials consistently refused to grant her access to her medically necessary hormone therapy -- a common clinical treatment to help transgender people experiencing gender dysphoria, the clinical term to describe a "marked incongruence between one's experienced/expressed gender and assigned gender," according to the newest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
The progressive law group notes that Diamond was eligible for her first parole hearing in November, but was released early -- just five days after SPLC "filed additional documents supporting her motion for preliminary injunction in a lawsuit filed in February."
"While we're thrilled that Ashley Diamond is out of prison, our lawsuit is far from over," said Chinyere Ezie, SPLC staff attorney in a press release. "Ashley has endured more than three years of systematic abuse based on the Georgia Department of Corrections' unconstitutional policies toward transgender inmates and woeful lack of care. Her release does not erase her barbaric treatment by GDC officials, which was tantamount to torture. Nor is her plight isolated. We will continue to advocate for an end to prison practices that unfairly punish and inflict pain on transgender inmates."
That lawsuit alleges that Georgia prison officials repeatedly violated Diamond's Eighth Amendment rights, allegedly failing to protect her from repeated raptes by other inmates, and refusing to grant her access to her medically necessary hormone treatments.
Despite documenting that she had been on hormone therapy for 17 years prior to her incarceration, Diamond was taken off that treatment when she was arrested in 2012 for burglary and theft, according to her lawsuit. Georgia state law requires state prisons to continue providing medication prescribed to inmates prior to their arrests, but a supposed clerical "error" had kept Diamond's hormones off her prison paperwork.
Last year, Diamond went public with this alleged abuse, as well as her story of sexual violence that she says she faced daily in Baldwin State Prison, a men's facility in Milledgeville, Ga. Through her attorneys at the SPLC, Diamond described the rape, assaults, and physical effects of being denied her prescribed hormone therapy as "torture" and a "death sentence." In her lawsuit, she explained that she had suffered severe depression and gender dyshporia because of her treatment and had attempted to commit suicide.
Diamond's fight received a huge boost in April when, in response to her lawsuit, the federal government issued a landmark statement backing her claim that her constitutional right to incarceration free of "cruel and unusual punishment" had been violated when prison staff continually refused to provide the hormone therapy she had been on for nearly two decades prior to incarceration.
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But Diamond's allegations of sexual abuse were not addressed by the federal ruling. Diamond told the courts that such treatment had continued at Baldwin and, after she received a "sexually explicit" note while in church May 3, she was moved to a second medium-security men's facility: Rutledge State Prison in Columbus, Ga. Diamond told her lawyers she'd received several similar letters previously, with others being sent to members of her family.
While awaiting transfer to Augusta State Medical Prison, Diamond alleges that she was sexually assaulted by her male cellmate on June 10 while temporarily held at an unspecified Georgia state prison in Reidsville. Diamond reported the alleged assault to Rutledge authorities after returning from her medical trip. Prison officials responded by placing her attacker in an isolated cell and investigating whether the incident was caught on camera. A separate investigation under the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act is also under way, notes U.K. newspaper The Telegraph.
Diamond's July report alleged that Rutledge warden Shay Hatcher informed other inmates about the alleged sexual assault as well as the name of her attacker. Diamond says several inmates then called her a "snitch," and that she faced threats if she did not withdraw her complaint. Before her transer to Augusta, Diamond told her lawyers that she was too frightened to leave her cell without an escort, even for meals.
Hatcher denied Diamond's account.
The Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 demands a "zero tolerance" policy for sexual assaults; however, audits on whether prisons have complied with the act's provisions did not begin until 2013, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Research has found that transgender women are particularly vulnerable to rape while housed in men's prisons. While LGBT inmates in general are at a nine times a higher risk for sexual assault according to government data, one 2009 California study found that trans women faced 13 times the risk of other LGB inmates when detained in male facilities. The Prison Rape Elimination Act recommends that facilities be aware of trans prisoners' unique safety needs, and assess "case-by-case" how to protect them from sexual assault. Sometimes this means housing trans women in solitary confinement for their own "protection," despite the practice being shown to be psychologically harmful.
Mitch Kellaway contributed to this report.