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DC jail will move trans woman out of men’s unit after officials busted trying to deceive the court

Tyniehsa Stephens visits with cellmates in a unit in the Harris County Jail for gay, bisexual and transgender prisoners in Houston.
Tyniehsa Stephens visits with cellmates in a unit in the Harris County Jail for gay, bisexual and transgender prisoners in Houston.Photo: Pat Sullivan, AP

Sunday Hinton is finally getting moved to the women’s area of the Washington D.C. jail system after suing to be housed appropriately. While Hinton’s case was already remarkably horrific, jail officials managed to make it even worse – for both Hinton… and then themselves.

Jail officials were caught trying to deceive the court and intimidate Hinton before agreeing to move her to the proper facilities.

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Hinton was arrested for “unarmed burglary with intent to steal $20,” a petty crime that has already cost her weeks of freedom and put her at risk of sexual assault.

The D.C. jail houses inmates based on their genitalia and not their gender identity as recommended by the federal government. Officials said that she could file a request with the Transgender Housing Committee (THC) to get a recommendation that she should be moved to a women’s facility.

The committee’s decision is not binding and it hasn’t met since January 2020.

After Hinton filed her lawsuit, her attorneys allege that jail officials attempted to intimidate her into dropping the complaint in exchange for being assigned safer housing. The lawyers quickly filed declarations with the court documenting what had happened since their original filing.

Officials told her she wouldn’t be housed with women and intimidated her into signing a document that said she wanted to be housed with men. She had asked to be housed with another trans woman if forced into the men’s prison, the lawyers allege, but officials told her they wouldn’t allow it unless she signed the paperwork.

“They were essentially saying: you have to sign this to go be with your friend, but if you don’t, you have to stay here at the jail,” Hinton said. “So I signed the paper because I thought it would be a little safer to have another girl on the unit with me than to stay with all men at the jail.”

Fifteen minutes before the hearing was supposed to start, officials notified Hinton’s lawyers that she would be moved.

“We’re afraid Ms. Hinton is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Scott Michelman of the ACLU-DC. The group is now seeking class certification to represent other transgender individuals in the D.C. system who are facing similar circumstances.

“I treat seriously that there are other individuals who might be housed not in accordance with their gender identity and were never given an opportunity to be heard by the THC to decide that issue,” said Judge Bates.

The Public Defender Service joined the ACLU-DC in the lawsuit. The groups say they know of at least one other person currently incarcerated in the men’s unit that should not be held there.

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