A transgender inmate says she was raped at a men’s prison hours after a judge threw out her request to block corrections officers from keeping her in a disciplinary unit.
Lindsay Saunders-Velez claims she had been threatened, harassed and assaulted since entering Colorado’s prison system last spring for violating her plea deal in a menacing case.
The prisoner filed a lawsuit against the state’s corrections agency in July, branding the system “discriminatory and dangerous” for transgender offenders.
Last month, her lawyers requested a judge not send Saunders-Velez to her jail’s “punishment pod” for a disciplinary infraction, saying she could end up with inmates who had tormented her.
The judge said the attorneys failed to prove an imminent risk, and rejected their request .
However, the 20-year-old was attacked during her time in the pod and needed more than a week in the infirmary recover, according to her attorney, Paula Greisen.
“This issue is not going to go away,” she said: “We’re going to fight it until these individuals are treated with the respect they deserve.”
Federal law requires prisons to individually asses where to house each transgender person, said Demoya Gordon, an attorney with LGBTQ+ advocacy group Lambda Legal’s transgender rights project.
But, she added, almost all facilities still housed inmates based on their genitalia or birth gender, resulting in many transgender women being abused or raped during their sentence.
Saunders-Velez entered Colorado’s foster care system as a child, then spent years in its youth corrections system, according to her attorneys and court records.
The prisoner says she has been “out as a trans female” since the age of four and was diagnosed with gender dysphoria in 2016, beginning hormone treatments in 2017.
Her lawsuit states that it was after she entered an adult prison on a three-year jail term in May last year and was sent to Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility that her problems with other inmates began.
Court records detail incidents in which male prisoners frequently pulled down a privacy screen shielding Saunders-Velez from view as she used the bathroom in her cell.
She said other prisoners threatened her, and in December she reported an inmate sexually assaulted her during a brief transfer to another Colorado prison.
“To escape,” Saunders-Velez swallowed razors and was sent to a hospital before being reassigned to “territorial”, her attorneys said.
Prison staff denied her requests to be called Lindsay and to be identified with female pronouns, according to the complaint, as well as refusing requests to be searched by a woman.
The most recent Bureau of Justice statistics from 2012 suggest around 3,200 inmates in America’s state and federal prisons identified as transgender.
Some 40 per cent of transgender inmates reported being a victim of abusive sexual contact by another inmate or a staff member, 10 times the rate among the general prison population.
Several authorities, including the San Francisco and New York City jail systems, have begun to house transgender prisoners by the gender they identify as.
In Colorado, at least one other inmate is suing the corrections department over its treatment of transgender people. The agency said it was unable to comment on ongoing litigation.
Additional reporting by AP
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