A transgender woman who was sexually harassed and tormented by prison guards while being held in state prison won a court case against the Maryland prison system in a landmark case, her lawyers told reporters yesterday.
Sandy Brown, 40, was sent to the Patuxent Institution in Jessup, Md. last February for a routine mental health evaluation but ended up spending 66 days in solitary confinement, Reuters reports. She was serving a five year term for assault at the time.
Guards at Patuxent not only isolated her and denied her access to recreational activities, but also watched her shower and bullied her. In one case, a guard repeatedly referred to her as "it," and told her she should kill herself.
"They didn't see me for the human being I am," Brown said in a statement. "They treated me like a circus act. They gawked, pointed, made fun of me and tried to break my spirit."
The amount of time Brown spent in Patuxent was also more than what the facility was intended for, according to Jer Welter, one of Brown's civil legal aid lawyers from the FreeState Legal Project, which provides legal assistance to low-income LGBTQ people in Maryland.
“Ordinarily these evaluations take 30 days at most,” Welter told Think Progress. “Ms. Brown’s went much more quickly, but she remained there actually until she filed this complaint.”
Judge Denise Shaffer ruled in August that the state failed to comply with national standards for the protection of inmates from sexual abuse under the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act, which took full effect in 2012 and includes specific protections for transgender inmates. Brown's lawyers say it's the first time a transgender inmate has won a legal case under the act.
"We believe this case creates a framework for enforcing the national standards that transgender people who are incarcerated in other states and their advocates can follow to help to ensure that others do not have to endure the pain and trauma Ms. Brown experienced," Rebecca Earlbeck, another civil legal aid lawyer from the FreeState Legal Project and working with Brown, told Reuters.
Judge Shaffer wrote in her ruling that the state correctional system was not training its staff on how to treat transgender inmates, and had no official policy in place.
"The majority of Patuxent's witnesses specifically testified that they never had any training with how to work with transgender inmates and further testified that Patuxent did not have any policies in place to provide such guidance," she wrote.
As of this month, Reuters reports, the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services requires all prisons in the state to adopt specific policies on treating transgender inmates and to provide relevant training to prison staff, in accordance with federal law.
This story was updated to include the description of Brown's lawyers as civil legal aid lawyers with the FreeState Legal Project.