January 30, 2019
The transfer, which occurred in September 2018, was the result of a federal lawsuit, and marked the first such transfer in the country
GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) and Prisoners Legal Services (PLS) announced today that Jane Doe, a transgender woman who had been incarcerated at Norfolk State men’s prison has been transferred to the state’s women’s facility at Framingham.
At Norfolk State Prison, Doe, who has lived as a woman for forty years, was consistently harassed, groped, and cat-called by prisoners and staff alike. She was regularly strip-searched by male prison guards, made to shower and undress in front of male prisoners, and called demeaning names by guards.
Doe said in a statement, “Being a woman in a men’s prison was daily torture. I was threatened, harassed, and humiliated nearly every day, and lived in constant fear for my safety. The stress and anxiety were totally unbearable. I’m serving my time, but no one should have to face what I did when I was at Norfolk. I hope my case can lead to the transfer and humane treatment of other transgender women in prison. We all deserve to be treated like human beings.”
Represented by GLAD and PLS, Doe, who is serving a sentence for a non-violent drug offense, filed a federal lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), asking for a transfer and other accommodations, such as being searched only by female guards and being called by her proper name.
In June, a federal judge ruled in a strongly-worded opinion that Doe was likely to prevail in her ADA claims – the first time the ADA has successfully been used to protect a transgender prisoner. Doe was transferred to a women’s facility in September 2018. GLAD believes it was the first transfer of its kind in the country.
“It’s a hugely important development,” said Jennifer Levi, the director of GLAD’s Transgender Rights Project. “Transgender women should not be placed in men’s correctional facilities against their wishes. Transgender women in men’s correctional facilities face degradation, humiliation, and risks of sexual violence. Transgender people who are incarcerated are doing their time. They should not be doubly punished just for being transgender.”
“Ms. Doe was undeniably harmed by the fact that she was housed in a men’s facility,” said Elizabeth Matos, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts. “For transgender women of color who are housed in men’s facilities as was Ms. Doe, the daily stresses of prison life are severely and unfairly compounded. It is important that we continue to work at addressing this problem. While the DOC has taken a significant step in the right direction by finally recognizing that Ms. Doe is a woman, and transferring her to a women’s facility, there is much more work to be done to ensure compliance with recently enacted law protecting the rights of transgender prisoners so that people like Ms. Doe do not continue to unnecessarily experience harm in our correctional facilities.”
“This case has underscored that transgender people must be treated with dignity and respect in every sphere of our society, including prisons,” added GLAD Senior Attorney Ben Klein. “In the case of our client, this means being fully respected as a woman and placed in a female correctional facility.”
In addition to GLAD and PLS, Jane Doe is represented by Goodwin Procter LLP.