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Settlement reached in SPLC case that highlighted plight of transgender prisoners

The SPLC case that brought international attention to the medical neglect and abuse of transgender prisoners has ended with a settlement agreement.

The agreement announced today ends the suit filed by the SPLC almost a year ago on behalf of Ashley Diamond, who was denied medically necessary treatment and repeatedly sexually assaulted by other prisoners while she was held at a men’s prison.

As part of the agreement, the Georgia Department of Corrections agreed to pay Diamond, 37, an undisclosed financial settlement.

Diamond, who was released from prison in August 2015 after pressure from the SPLC lawsuit, was serving a sentence for a probation violation stemming from a nonviolent crime. She was denied female hormones she had been receiving for 17 years – medically necessary care for her gender dysphoria. She was sexually assaulted by other prisoners at least eight times while incarcerated.

“We’re pleased that we were able to favorably resolve this case on behalf of Ashley Diamond and bring international attention to the plight of transgender prisoners,” said Chinyere Ezie, SPLC staff attorney. “Our lawsuit and Ashley Diamond’s bravery brought about important changes in Georgia, and have put prison officials across the country on notice about the constitutional rights of transgender persons.”

Since the SPLC intervened, Diamond has become an international hero in the fight to protect the rights of transgender prisoners, who are victimized at 10 times the rate of other prisoners.

The New York Times chronicled the SPLC case and Diamond’s plight in a series of front-page articles, calling her “the Georgia inmate whose lawsuit is making her a protagonist in transgender rights history.” Pop icon Elton John and famed musician Michael Stipe announced their support for Diamond and other transgender prisoners in a joint statement last April.

The lawsuit has triggered significant reforms in the treatment of transgender prisoners in Georgia and nationwide.

“This lawsuit has always been about more than me,” Diamond said. “It’s about standing up to injustice and ensuring that no other transgender people endure the horrific abuse and mistreatment that I experienced behind bars. Though I am pleased with this resolution, I remain dedicated to fighting for the rights of transgender people both in and out of prison.”

The U.S. Department of Justice issued a seminal statement in support of the SPLC’s case, declaring that gender dysphoria is a condition requiring medical treatment like any other disease. This means that corrections departments across the country have a constitutional obligation to provide medically necessary care, including hormone therapy, to transgender prisoners.

In addition, the Georgia Department of Corrections rescinded its “freeze frame” policy that prevented many transgender inmates from receiving the treatment they need. Because of the case, dozens of transgender inmates across the state are now receiving hormone therapy for the first time since entering custody. Georgia prison officials also adopted a sexual assault prevention policy that is more closely aligned with federal standards, and they are training prison staffers throughout the state on the health and safety needs of transgender inmates.

Diamond was released from prison three years into an eight-year sentence when the Georgia Department of Corrections determined that her release “was compatible with the welfare of society and public safety.”

Photo Credit: Robin Henson