News (USA)

Trans inmates win “lifesaving” lawsuit demanding improved health care & safer housing

A person protesting with a "trans rights are human rights" sign
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A class action lawsuit finalized on Tuesday has mandated Colorado prisons to provide better housing options for transgender women as well as improved access to gender-affirming care.

The Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC) will be required to implement a variety of changes, including implementing healthcare that’s more in line with established guidelines, as well as two additional housing units. 

“No matter what mistakes we’ve made in our pasts, everyone deserves basic dignity and respect,” said Taliyah Murphy, a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “Everyone deserves to be physically safe and be provided necessary healthcare. The changes that have been achieved could make the difference between life and death for some of these women. I’m thrilled to have helped bring about this progress and be a part of this important case.”

One housing unit will be an ‘integration unit’ to help transgender women transition to a women’s prison, and the other will be a ‘voluntary transgender unit’ for trans women placed in men’s prisons who would prefer to be around other transgender women.

Other changes include alterations to frisking procedures, additional training for staff, and a required validation of transgender people’s names, pronouns, and honorifics. CDOC will also be paying over $2 million in damages to the plaintiffs.

CDOC will implement these changes by the end of 2024 and will be working with outside experts to improve the care transgender inmates receive.

The changes will be made via a consent decree created in response to the lawsuit and approved by Denver District Court Judge Jill D. Dorancy. The initial lawsuit included seven transgender women who have been incarcerated in Colorado. They were represented by Greisen Medlock, LLC, the Transgender Law Center, and Arnold & Porter.

The plaintiffs alleged that they were subject to intense physical and sexual abuse while being housed in male prisons and that they were subject to anti-trans discrimination by members of the staff.

“I won’t say the staff member’s name, but we were on our way to a transgender support group and she intentionally called us all out and she’s like, ‘Hi, gentleman!'”Murphy told 9news. “It was like somebody punching me in the stomach.”

The suit further alleges that the plaintiffs were denied gender-affirming care, as well as access to certain rehabilitation facilities.

“This is a landmark consent decree,” said Scott Medlock, one of the attorneys on the case. “This is really a huge change in how Colorado operates its prison system, and hopefully Colorado can be a model for the nation. I don’t think at all it’s an exaggeration to say that it will be lifesaving.”

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