Transgender woman Ashley Diamond is suing the Georgia Department of Corrections for a second time, saying it failed to protect her from sexual assault and did not provide her with adequate health care while incarcerated.
Diamond first sued the agency in 2015, while she was an inmate at the Georgia State Prison, a men’s facility, because it had not allowed her to receive hormone therapy while serving her sentence. She was released in August of that year, and in 2016 she won a historic settlement under which the state changed policies so that many trans inmates could receive treatment, and agreed to revamp its sexual assault policy and train staff on the needs of trans prisoner.
Diamond was returned to prison in October 2019 because of a parole violation, and she has found that conditions have not changed, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights, which is representing her in the new suit along with the Southern Poverty Law Center. SPLC handled the original one.
Serving in two men’s prisons over the past year, she has been sexually assaulted at least 14 times by other inmates and prison staff, including four assaults by different people over three days, her suit says. A day before she moved into a dorm at the second facility, “an officer called a dormitory-wide meeting and announced Ms. Diamond’s transgender status, disclosing confidential medical information and describing her as ‘a freak,’ ‘he,’ and ‘it,’” says a press release from the Center for Constitutional Rights. “Shortly after this meeting, Ms. Diamond was — predictably — assaulted.” She also has been denied treatment again, leading her to attempt self-castration and suicide, according to the suit.
“Being a woman in a men’s prison is a nightmare,” Diamond said in the press release. “I’ve been stripped of my identity. I never feel safe. Never. I experience sexual harassment on a daily basis, and the fear of sexual assault is always a looming thought. I’m bringing this lawsuit to bring about change on behalf of a community that deserves the inherent dignity to simply exist.”
The lawsuit charges that instead of providing hormones to all trans inmates, the Department of Corrections does so inconsistently and often only after long delays. Further, inmates often do not have access to gender-appropriate clothing and grooming items or needed mental health care, and they are frequently misgendered by staff, according to the suit.
Such treatment violates the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which bans “cruel and unusual punishment,” and the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws, the suit contends.
“I never thought I would be partnering with Ashley Diamond to sue Georgia for a second time. However, little has changed since 2015 when it comes to the abuse and neglect of transgender people in GDC custody,” Chinyere Ezie, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, said in the press release. He brought Diamond’s original lawsuit in 2015 while working at SPLC.
“We sued Georgia prisons on Ashley’s behalf before and, unfortunately, we’re having to sue again to end the abhorrent treatment of transgender people, particularly transgender women of color, in Georgia’s prisons,” added Beth Littrell, senior attorney for SPLC. “Five years after changing its policies in response to our first lawsuit, GDC tragically continues to flout its legal obligations to protect transgender people in its custody. The assaults and threats that Ashley continues to face on a daily basis are based on the fact that she is a woman in a men’s prison —it’s intolerable and inexcusable.”