Transgender, Gender Non-Conforming and Queer Prisoners say “me too”: Lawsuit Filed Denouncing Assaults at The Central California Women’s Facility
On November 9, 2017 four people of color – a transgender man, a gender non-conforming person and two queer female prisoners – who were all at one time incarcerated at the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF), filed a lawsuit against the State of California and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). The lawsuit denounces two vicious assaults where correctional officers beat up, sexually harassed, hurled homophobic and transphobic insults at, and tormented the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs were then denied medical treatment for their injuries and were prevented from filing grievances about the assaults they had experienced. The assaults are particularly reprehensible because the plaintiffs are all survivors of sexual trauma and violence and were assaulted while advocating for their basic human rights.
The assaults originally took place on November 11, 2015, when Stacy Rojas, a gender non-conforming former prisoner was brutally attacked by correctional officers after warning that they intended to complain to the prison’s internal investigation unit about repeated harassment by guards regarding their gender. Rojas’ cell mates were subsequently attacked when they indicated that they would report the use of excessive force against Rojas. All three were then confined for nearly twelve hours in small programming cages and subject to sexually humiliating and abusive treatment. This included having their clothing cut off of their bodies, having their breasts and chests stomped on by guard boots, and being told that male guards could “show them what a real man is” while making reference to the size of their penises. They were then put in solitary confinement without cause and without receiving medical treatment for their injuries or being allowed to use the restroom.
When all three plaintiffs attempted to use the internal system of accountability designed to report abuses inside prisons, they were obstructed. Their original complaints were claimed to have been lost and then mentioned in response to future complaints as a reason to not investigate follow-up reports. Furthermore, they were never informed by the CDCR of conclusive results of any investigation into the incidents. The legal complaint submitted by the law offices of Siegel and Yee seeks the creation of a system of true accountability for excessive use of force, sexualized violence, and targeting of transgender, gender non-conforming and queer prisoners by guards against prisoners as well as freedom from retaliation for reporting such violations.
Released in January 2017, Rojas is now part of the legal advocacy team working on the case, they are committed to making a difference for those still in prison: “Most of us are inside because of the histories of violence and abuse that we experienced and then got caught up in. Just because we are in prison doesn’t mean that we should not have our basic human rights protected. I do not want anyone else to go through what I did. My fellow inmates use to tell me that I was singled out because of my gender and because I advocated for myself and others. We have a right to stand up for ourselves and to take care of each other.”
On January 5, 2017, Isaac Medina, a transgender prisoner at CCWF, was denied access to his medication. When he asked why he was being denied, he was then attacked violently by multiple guards. At the time of the attack, Medina was in a wheelchair and during the incident he was also denied the accommodations he was entitled to under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). During the course of the attack he endured physical brutality and sexually humiliating treatment, such as having his pants pulled down to his ankles throughout the attack and having his head smashed against a brick wall. Medina, was also placed in a programming cage and not allowed to use the bathroom after the attack. Further, he was denied medical treatment for his injuries.
According to Sara Kershnar of the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, “These incidents are part of a pattern of abuse at CCWF, part of a climate of increasing violence employed by correctional officers at CCWF against transgender, gender non-conforming and queer women prisoners. They represent a backlash against hard-won legal rights for trans people in prison, such as the right to access hormone therapy. They reflect officer resentment about changing cultural norms regarding gender identity. They also re-traumatize people who have suffered sexual violence and homophobia and transphobia before they were incarcerated.”
This is a moment of exploding social awareness in this country about the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and violence by those in power against vulnerable people. This case shines a light on predatory practices by correctional officers that target people who are marginalized within women’s prisons based upon their gender identification and sexuality. The plaintiffs’ demand systemic policy changes in the prisons to prevent such types of abuse and prejudice in the future.