Federal judge in GA denies more protection to transgender inmate

A federal judge ruled against ordering more protection for a transgender Georgia prisoner but told prison officials the court is watching the prisoner’s treatment, the inmate’s lawyers said Tuesday.

Ashley Diamond, 37, has sued prison officials for failing to protect her against sexual assault and — at least initially — denying her the hormone treatments she had received for 17 years to develop female characteristics before imprisonment for burglary and theft. In retaliation, she contends, officials moved her to Georgia State Prison in Reidsville, a maximum security facility with more dangerous inmates

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Marc Treadwell rebuffed Diamond’s request to be moved to a safer prison or to order prison officials to take any more specific steps to ensure Diamond’s protection. The judge did not address the merits of the lawsuit, said David Dinielli, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is representing Diamond.

Prison officials outlined for the judge measures implemented to better protect Diamond, such as adding an additional guard to Diamond’s cell block, providing escorts to the dining hall on request, moving one harassing inmate and moving Diamond to a cell nearer a security camera, Dinielli said.

“The judge concluded that based on the record before him that he believed the (DOC) response was sufficient — he did not say the conditions were good,” Dinielli said. “The department is under close scrutiny and we intend to hold them to that.”

Court papers filed by the law center depicted a environment in which Diamond had been repeatedly sexually and physically assaulted since entering prison in 2012 after multiple convictions in Floyd County. The court filings include affidavits from other inmates stating the abuse Diamond had suffered and that she had not been protected by officials.

The court papers included allegations that an official told Diamond that she had been transferred to the maximum security prison despite being imprisoned for nonviolent crimes because of the lawsuit.

“Soon after we filed the lawsuit she was transferred to a new prison and we thought the conditions were even worse,” Dinielli said. ‘Our goal is to ensure that even though she has endured seven sexual assaults that an eighth not happen.”

After the lawsuit was filed, the Georgia prison system changed its policy regarding medical treatment for transgender inmates. This month, the Justice Department has intervened on Diamond’s behalf, filing court papers that did not take a position on Diamond’s claims but reminded prison officials the U.S. Constitution requires them to provide inmates with individualized assessment and care for the condition.

While similar cases have been brought elsewhere, Justice Department officials said this is the first time the agency has gotten involved. Diamond has been diagnosed with gender dysphoria, a condition that causes a person to experience extreme distress because of a disconnect between the birth sex and gender identity, and justice officials warned that prisons were required to treat it like any other mental or physical health issue.

The lawsuit contends that the department stopped the female hormone treatment that Diamond was getting outside of prison, which resulted in facial hair and a deeper voice reappearing and the breasts that had developed disappearing. The prison system has since restarted the hormone treatment but Diamond’s lawyers contend the dose is inadequate.

The new prison policy says inmates with a possible gender dysphoria diagnosis will be evaluated and a treatment plan will be developed to address the patient’s physical and mental health.

Diamond also has been diagnosed with post traumatic stress syndrome, according to prison records filed with the court. According to a note filed while Diamond was at Baldwin Sate Prison in December, Diamond had “self harmed” again and her chief complaint was fear of the staff. The prisoner counselor deemed her at severe risk for self harm if there were any more set backs or assaults.

“She is not safe at BSP,” the counselor, Stephen Sloan, wrote in the note. “I find the atmosphere at this institution to be one of marked homophobia with little support for inmates who are members of sexual minorities.”

Prison officials moved Diamond to the more secure Georgia State Prison, which the law center contends is a more dangerous facility and that Diamond should be moved to a transition center for inmates on the verge of returning to society or to a female or lower-security prison.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.