The D.C. Department of Corrections agreed to change policies related to the housing of transgender inmates after facing a class action lawsuit.
The DOC agreed this week to settle the lawsuit and house transgender people according to their gender identity. They also said they would limit how often transgender people are kept in protective custody without the inmate’s request or a specific safety concern.
Courtney Philips was one of many transgender women forced to live in the same part of the jail where men are housed.
“That automatically makes you a target,” she said. “I was verbally abused. There were other instances where I was almost sexually assaulted.”
Another transgender woman, Sunday Hinton, took the District to court last year with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union. She was placed in a men’s unit for more than two weeks.
Scott Michelman, legal director of the ACLU-DC, called the settlement in Hinton’s case an important development.
“We think this is a significant step forward in terms of the jail’s recognition of people’s dignity and humanity, particularly of trans people who are already vulnerable to abuse,” he said.
The lawsuit exposed another practice at the jail that affected every inmate: any inmate placed in isolation or protective custody was forced to be shackled anytime they were moved from one part of the jail to another.
“They would be shackled at the hands, the feet and with a chain connecting them. One of our declarants described it as being chained up like an animal — totally unnecessary. Degrading and humiliating," Michelman said.
The jail agreed to end the practice in most cases.
D.C. Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Chris Geldart said improvements are being made at the jail every day.
“We’re working the policies and making sure that everything we do provides for a safe and humane treatment of the folks that we have at DOC," he said.
Mayor Muriel Bowser proposed spending $251 million to build a new jail, and $25 million to improve the current jail while the new facility is built. The mayor aimed to open the new jail by 2028.
Philips said she’ll always have to live with the scars of how she was treated at the D.C. jail.
Philips said she’ll always have to live with the scars of how she was treated at the D.C. jail. She described her experience as “debilitating, traumatizing, and, like I said, mentally challenging.”