News (USA)

LGBTQ prisoners held in ‘alternative lifestyle isolation tanks’ win million dollar lawsuit

Approximately 600 LGBTQI inmates at San Bernardino County Jail who were forced into the county’s co-called “Alternative Lifestyle Isolation Tank” have won a 2014 lawsuit and are now expected to split up to $1 million in settlement money.

The case, spearheaded by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), asserted that LGBTQI inmates were held in their cells for up to 23 hours per day without access to specialized programming, social interaction or other outside activities. Specifically, prisoners in this sect were denied access to job training, educational, drug rehabilitation, religious, and community re-entry programs.

One of the plaintiffs, Lynn Price, identifies as a transgender woman and said she would have participated in the GED program offered at West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga, but she wasn’t given the option.

“We were all being discriminated against,” Price told the ACLU. “We weren’t given a fair part, a fair shake. Everybody else, all the non-gay people, they could do the things they wanted to do. But us, there was nothing we could do.”

Price said she was allowed up to 90 minutes per day to take a shower, watch television and make a phone call.

“It was a very lonely thing,” Price said. “It kind of tends to wear you down.”

While prisons have an obligation to keep all inmates safe, they also have the duty of providing equal access to opportunities while in confinement.

“The [San Bernardino County] jail maintains the discrimination folks experienced was for their own safety,” ACLU Southern California attorney Brendan Hamme told San Bernardino newspaper The Sun. “No one should be led to choose between their safety and their equal rights.”

Sheriff’s Sgt. Chris Willison said in a statement that he disagreed with the assessment.

“Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex inmates are not treated any differently than other inmates in custody,” he said. “They receive the same privileges as other inmates and they are not placed into dedicated housing units solely on the basis of such identification or status.”

“We couldn’t voice our opinions because the people we would go to were the main ones calling us all types of names,” Price said.

The 2014 case was initiated by former sheriff’s deputy Dan McKibben, who was an out gay man. McKibben died in 2016, but said he’d witnessed LGBTQ inmates being discriminated against, beaten, verbally harassed, and called derogatory names.

The agreement is pending approval by the U.S. District Court in Riverside. Once fully approved, prisoners held in the Alternative Lifestyle Tank from 2012-2018 are expected to receive a settlement, minus attorney’s fees. Prison staff will also be ordered to undergo specialized training.

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