ATLANTA -- Prison officials must keep transgender people reasonably safe from substantial risk of harm and provide them with adequate medical care, the U.S. Justice Department said, wading into a lawsuit filed by a transgender woman against Georgia prison officials.
Ashley Diamond sued in November, saying prison officials failed to protect her from repeated sexual assaults in the men's prison where she's housed and failed to provide her with adequate medical treatment for her gender dysphoria, the psychological distress resulting from a conflict between an individual’s identity and the gender assigned at birth.
Diamond, 43, has identified as female since she was a child and began hormone therapy when she was 17, giving her full breasts, softer skin and a feminine appearance, her lawsuit said.
Filing a brief in Diamond's case Thursday, the Justice Department said it's not taking a position on the facts of the case but noted that the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution "requires prison officials to conduct individualized assessments that lead to reasonably safe conditions of confinement and adequate medical care for all prisoners.”
Department of Corrections spokeswoman Joan Heath said the agency “does not provide comment related to pending litigation or similar legal matters.”
The Center for Constitutional Rights and the Southern Poverty Law Center, which filed the lawsuit on Diamond's behalf, applauded the Justice Department filing.
“In essence, the DOJ confirms that when it comes to Ms. Diamond — who alleges repeated sexual assaults, including by prison officials, and ongoing denial of adequate medical care — the U.S. Constitution is on her side,” the organizations said in an emailed statement. “We are encouraged that the Biden administration agrees, and optimistic that the court will protect the rights of Ms. Diamond and other incarcerated trans people.”
Diamond's lawyers said in court filings earlier this month that repeated sexual assaults and lack of sufficient medical treatment have caused her mental and physical trauma and led her to harm herself. They also said prison officials have retaliated against Diamond since she filed complaints and the lawsuit with a slew of unwarranted disciplinary reports that resulted in her release date being delayed.
Diamond's lawyers have asked a judge to order prison officials to move her to a women's prison and to provide her with necessary medical treatment for her gender dysphoria. A hearing on those requests is set for next month.
This is not the first time the Justice Department has weighed in on legal action filed by Diamond against Georgia prison officials.
Diamond previously sued Georgia corrections officials in 2015 over similar allegations during a previous term of incarceration. Shortly after that lawsuit was filed, the Justice Department filed a brief that said prison officials must treat a gender identity condition just as they would treat any other medical or mental health condition.
Georgia prison officials then implemented a policy to ensure that prisoners with a possible gender dysphoria diagnosis are evaluated by qualified medical and mental health professionals, including an assessment of treatment and experiences before entering prison. The policy also said a treatment plan would be developed to address physical and mental health.
Diamond was paroled in August 2015 after serving about a third of her 12-year sentence for burglary and other convictions, according to prison records. She settled her lawsuit against the state in February 2016.
Diamond was sent back to prison on a parole violation in October 2019.
The Associated Press does not generally identify victims of sexual assault, but Diamond has repeatedly come forward publicly to put a spotlight on the treatment of transgender people in prison.