WASHINGTON – Late last night, the D.C. Department of Corrections (DOC) agreed to improve its housing policies for transgender people at the D.C. Jail as part of a settlement of a lawsuit brought by the ACLU of the District of Columbia and the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia (PDS) on behalf of Sunday Hinton. The DOC forced Ms. Hinton, a transgender woman, to live in a men’s unit, at odds with her gender identity, for more than two weeks in May 2021.
Under the settlement, DOC will implement new safeguards to ensure that transgender people will be housed in accordance with their gender identity upon intake and will limit the time they may be held in isolating “protective custody” status absent the person’s request or specific safety concerns. Additionally, DOC will end its practice of shackling all “protective custody” residents, including transgender people, while they are being transferred or moved within the Jail. DOC also agreed to report to PDS for four months about the implementation of its new policies.
The policy changes follow additional adjustments DOC has made as a result of Ms. Hinton’s case. Days after the case was filed and less than an hour before the first court hearing in the case, DOC transferred Ms. Hinton to a women’s unit as she had requested. Then, in June 2021, DOC eliminated from its transgender housing policy a default presumption of housing trans residents according to their anatomy rather than their identity. The case continued after these changes because DOC decided to house transgender people in protective custody (comparable to isolation status) when they were first being processed in the Jail and to place them in shackles when they were being moved within the Jail.
“No one should face what I had to face at the D.C. Jail. DOC put my safety and mental health at risk, and I’m glad that other trans people at the Jail will be treated with more dignity,” said Sunday Hinton. Ms. Hinton spent four weeks at the D.C. Jail in the spring of 2021 after being ordered detained pretrial based on a charge of unarmed burglary with the intent to steal $20—a charge that has since been dismissed.
“Both the D.C. Jail’s practice of assigning transgender people to housing based on anatomy rather than identity and its decision to place trans residents in unnecessary full-body shackles in protective custody were discriminatory and profoundly harmful,” said Scott Michelman, Legal Director of the ACLU of the District of Columbia. “It shouldn’t take a lawsuit to gain recognition of transgender peoples’ basic humanity and dignity, but we’re pleased the Department of Corrections has agreed to change its unlawful policies.”
According to the Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality, transgender individuals are over five times more likely than cisgender individuals to be sexually assaulted while in custody. Before Ms. Hinton’s lawsuit, trans individuals confined at the D.C. Jail were regularly housed at odds with their identity and thereby placed at heightened risk of sexual abuse.
The lawsuit, Hinton v. District of Columbia, was filed as a class action in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in May 2021. The lawsuit charged 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 also claimed DOC had imposed unconstitutionally dangerous conditions of confinement in violation of her due process rights. The suit also alleged that DOC’s approach to housing transgender individuals violated federal regulations under the Prison Rape Elimination Act.
“Sunday Hinton’s courageous fight against discrimination has led to important changes not only for transgender individuals but for all protective custody jail residents, who until now were subjected to the degrading and unjustified practice of full-body shackling,” said Rachel Cicurel, Staff Attorney, Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia. “Ms. Hinton's case has exposed several kinds of inhumane treatment by DOC.”
Additional information about the case, Hinton v. District of Columbia, can be found here