CHICAGO — A transgender woman serving a 10-year sentence in Illinois for burglary has been moved from a men’s to a women’s prison in what is a rare accommodation by state prison authorities, her lawyers announced Thursday.
Deon “Strawberry” Hampton , 27, was moved after a yearlong legal battle and resistance from the Illinois Department of Corrections.
Hampton, of Chicago, had requested the transfer on grounds she’d be less vulnerable to the sexual assault, taunting and beatings she was subjected to in male prisons, according to federal lawsuits filed on her behalf by the MacArthur Justice Center and the Uptown People’s Law Center in Chicago.
She was moved within the past week from an all-male prison in Dixon, in northern Illinois, to the women’s Logan Correctional Center more than 100 miles away in central Illinois.
The IDOC’s hand was forced last month by a federal court that found Hampton had a strong case that her equal-protection rights were violated. Her lawyers said it was only the second such ruling in the country by a federal court.
One of her attorneys, Vanessa del Valle, hailed the transfer as a victory for transgender rights. But she added that the IDOC still hasn’t fixed “systemic failures” that lead to abuse of transgender inmates.
“The fight for Strawberry and for all trans women in IDOC has only just begun,” del Valle said.
The IDOC confirmed the transfer in a Thursday statement, adding that the agency “carefully considered Hampton’s housing placement before making the transfer.” It said the IDOC maintains “100 percent compliance with the national standards” designed to protect all inmates from sexual abuse.”
Del Valle said Hampton is the only transgender female inmate now serving in an Illinois prison for women, though the IDOC said there have been some other instances in the past. It didn’t provide details.
The latest available federal data from 2016 indicates there were no transgender female inmates in Illinois’ two female prisons; there were 28 transgender women in the state’s 24 male prisons.
Hampton has described how guards and fellow inmates regularly singled her out for brutal treatment at Menard Correctional Center in southern Illinois and earlier at Pinckneyville Correctional Center. While at the Pinckneyville prison, she alleged guards made her and another transgender inmate perform sex acts on each other as guards hurled slurs and laughed.
Unable to comfortably represent herself as female in the male prison — where she couldn’t wear her hair or nails long — was devastating psychologically, according to one filing from her lawyers.
“I feel inhuman,” Hampton was quoted as saying.
In court filings, the IDOC also cast doubt on Hampton’s gender identity — alleging Hampton in initial sessions with prison health workers never claimed to be transgender and, in the words of one filing, “was OK with being male.”
But clinical psychiatrist George Brown said in a declaration to a federal court that Hampton showed all the features of someone convinced of their female identity, adding Hampton has identified as female since the age of 5.
Brown also challenged the department’s contention that Hampton could be a greater risk to women because she hasn’t had sex reassignment surgery, saying such a view “conflicts with all reliable medical literature.” He said Hampton’s low testosterone levels due to previous hormone treatments meant she was “functionally chemically castrated.”