Jus­tice De­part­ment in­ves­ti­gates

Of­fi­cials in­ves­ti­gate treat­ment of LGBT Ge­or­gia in­mates

GA Voice - - Front Page - By PA­TRICK SAUN­DERS psaun­ders@the­gavoice.com Ge­or­gia Voice will fol­low up with any de­vel­op­ments in the Jus­tice De­part­ment and U.S. At­tor­ney’s Of­fice in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The U.S. De­part­ment of Jus­tice, in con­junc­tion with the U.S. At­tor­ney’s Of­fice, has opened up an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the Ge­or­gia De­part­ment of Cor­rec­tions’ (GDC) treat­ment of LGBT pris­on­ers. The in­ves­ti­ga­tion fol­lows the high pro­file case of for­mer in­mate Ash­ley Diamond, a trans­gen­der woman who filed a fed­eral law­suit against the GDC last year al­leg­ing she had been de­nied med­i­cal treat­ment for gen­der dys­pho­ria and had been sex­u­ally as­saulted by other in­mates.

Diamond’s case at­tracted in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion, in­clud­ing a court fil­ing in sup­port of her by the Jus­tice De­part­ment and pub­lic out­cry. Diamond, who was rep­re­sented by the South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter (SPLC), was granted early re­lease last Au­gust and the par­ties reached an undis­closed fi­nan­cial set­tle­ment in Fe­bru­ary of this year.

In the wake of Diamond’s law­suit, the GDC also re­scinded its “freeze frame” pol­icy that pre­vented many trans­gen­der in­mates from re­ceiv­ing hor­mone ther­apy, adopted a sex­ual as­sault pre­ven­tion pol­icy that’s more in line with fed­eral stan­dards and started train­ing prison staffers on the health and safety needs of trans­gen­der in­mates.

The Jus­tice De­part­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tion is be­lieved to be the first of theirs ever to fo­cus on LGBT pris­on­ers. And while the U.S. At­tor­ney’s Of­fice wouldn’t draw a link be­tween Diamond’s case and the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, it ap­pears to be one more domino to fall af­ter that in­ci­dent.

“While our law­suit has done an im­por­tant part of the work of mak­ing con­di­tions in Ge­or­gia safer for pris­on­ers, the De­part­ment of Jus­tice is go­ing in be­hind us with a fo­cus specif­i­cally on safety and hous­ing is­sues with re­spect to that com­mu­nity, and sex­ual vic­tim­iza­tion risk,” said Chinyere Ezie, Diamond’s at­tor­ney at the SPLC.

Al­le­ga­tions of abuse reached ‘crit­i­cal mass’

John Horn, U.S. At­tor­ney for the North- ern District of Ge­or­gia, tells Ge­or­gia Voice that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is be­ing con­ducted jointly by their of­fice and the Civil Rights Divi­sion of the Jus­tice De­part­ment.

“Es­sen­tially we’re look­ing at po­ten­tial vi­o­la­tions of the Civil Rights of In­sti­tu­tion­al­ized Per­sons Act (CRIPA), which deals with the con­sti­tu­tional rights of pris­on­ers in in­sti­tu­tions like pris­ons,” said Horn, who couldn’t go into specifics of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion but added, “What we can say is that we have re­ceived some com­plaints re­lat­ing to al­le­ga­tions of abuse in Ge­or­gia pris­ons. When we reach crit­i­cal mass, we de­cide to open up an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion is cur­rently in the fact-find- ing stage (i.e. fairly early) and there is no timetable on how long it will take to com­plete.

“The good news is the GDC has been ex­tremely co­op­er­a­tive and re­cep­tive to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion so far and we’re work­ing closely to­gether to con­duct the in­ves­ti­ga­tion quickly and thor­oughly,” Horn said.

Diamond: ‘Trans­gen­der peo­ple are nor­mal, real peo­ple’

One of the SPLC’s court fil­ings dur­ing Diamond’s case shined a light on the treat­ment of LGBT pris­on­ers in Ge­or­gia. It in­cluded hand­writ­ten state­ments from trans­gen­der pris­on­ers echo­ing sim­i­lar treat­ment that Diamond went through, in­clud­ing de- nial of med­i­cal treat­ment and re­peated sex­ual as­sault by fel­low in­mates.

“We are all afraid and need help from the courts to help make the D.O.C. be more help­ful to our se­ri­ous med­i­cal needs and safety. We can’t fight alone. Please step in,” one reads. “Sad­ness, de­pres­sion and hope­less­ness takes me to very dark and sad and some­times sui­ci­dal places. Ash­ley Diamond and a few oth­ers share the same pain,” reads an­other.

Diamond, who landed in prison ini­tially for a pro­ba­tion vi­o­la­tion stem­ming from a non­vi­o­lent of­fense, is back home in Rome and ad­just­ing to post-prison life. She says it’s hard to con­sider her­self sat­is­fied with the out­come of her case, con­sid­er­ing what she went through.

“That’s a dif­fi­cult ques­tion for me be­cause when you go through some­thing like that, I don’t think you can ever be sat­is­fied no mat­ter what the re­sult was,” Diamond told Ge­or­gia Voice. “I am happy that changes have been made for my peo­ple. I’m so elated that the SPLC stood up and came to bat. Chinyere was a great at­tor­ney. I try to spend my time fo­cus­ing on that and not the neg­a­tive, like the last four years.”

She says she’s so­lic­it­ing LGBT and civil rights or­ga­ni­za­tions for work and has been do­ing ad­vo­cacy work and mo­ti­va­tional speak­ing. She’s also writ­ing a book about her ex­pe­ri­ence with plans for a re­lease next sum­mer. It’s all part of what she says is her goal to get healthy, stay fo­cused and con­cen­trate on what she calls her mis­sion.

“The mis­sion is to en­sure that trans­gen­der peo­ple are treated equally and not as some fad. I’m kind of con­cerned. I was re­ally elated about some of the changes. You know, Cait­lyn Jen­ner had a show. I thought it was go­ing in a good di­rec­tion with the trans­gen­der com­mu­nity, but in some ways I also feel like it’s also been made a joke. I think that the best way for us to get this out there is to put it all out there. I want to be one of those peo­ple who leads by ex­am­ple. So I just want to let peo­ple know that trans­gen­der peo­ple are nor­mal, real peo­ple who have real is­sues and prob­lems but de­serve a place in so­ci­ety.”

“What we can say is that we have re­ceived some com­plaints re­lat­ing to al­le­ga­tions of abuse in Ge­or­gia pris­ons. When we reach crit­i­cal mass, we de­cide to open up an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.” — John Horn, U.S. At­tor­ney for the North­ern District of Ge­or­gia

Ash­ley Diamond was re­leased early from prison last Au­gust af­ter fil­ing a fed­eral law­suit against the Ge­or­gia De­part­ment of Cor­rec­tions. (Photo by Pa­trick Saun­ders)

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.