FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WASHINGTON – The ACLU of the District of Columbia and Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia have filed a lawsuit against the District of Columbia government to stop its Department of Corrections from incarcerating Sunday Hinton, a trans woman, in the men’s unit at the D.C. Jail, in violation of her rights under the Constitution and the D.C. Human Rights Act. Hinton has made requests to be transferred to the women’s unit; her pleas have been ignored.
Under DOC’s housing policy for transgender residents, individuals are by default assigned to housing based on their genitalia, rather than their gender identity. Transgender individuals may be reassigned based on a recommendation by DOC’s Transgender Housing Committee—which includes DOC staff, a doctor, a social worker, a mental health clinician, and members of the trans community—but that committee has been suspended for more than a year. Hinton has never received a hearing before the Committee. When her public defender asked that Hinton be moved to a women’s unit, an attorney from DOC’s Office of General Counsel responded that DOC would not do so if a resident is “anatomically male.” Her only other option, according to the Office of General Counsel, is protective custody—which, in D.C., is merely solitary confinement by another name.
“DOC’s policy of focusing on anatomy rather than gender identity is both discriminatory and dangerous. It forces trans individuals, particularly trans women, to choose between a heightened risk of sexual violence and a near-certain mental health crisis,” says Megan Yan, Attorney, ACLU-DC.
According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Study reports, transgender individuals are over five times more likely than cisgender individuals to be sexually assaulted while in custody. At the D.C. Jail, the alternative is being locked away in total isolation—under conditions that almost universally lead to severe psychological damage and symptoms including panic attacks, disordered thinking, paranoia, and despair. Over 50 percent of suicides that occur in jails and prisons involve the 3–6 percent of prisoners who are held in solitary confinement.
Today’s lawsuit, Hinton v. District of Columbia, was filed as a class action in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The lawsuit charges DOC with discrimination based on Hinton’s gender identity and sex in violation of her constitutional right to equal protection and the D.C. Human Rights Act, and with imposing unconstitutionally dangerous conditions of confinement in violation of her due process rights. The suit also notes that DOC’s approach to housing transgender individuals violates federal regulations under the Prison Rape Elimination Act.
“By housing Sunday Hinton in the men’s unit, DOC has effectively erased her identity as a woman,” said Rachel Cicurel, Staff Attorney, Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia. “This is unconscionable and must be rectified immediately.”
Along with the lawsuit, the ACLU-DC and Public Defender Service today filed a motion for emergency relief, seeking a transfer of Hinton to a general population women’s unit, and motions to certify a class and to impose an injunction prohibiting DOC’s use of anatomy as the default or sole criterion in housing assignments regardless of gender identity and individual safety. The suit also asks DOC to reactivate the Transgender Housing Committee.