February 26, 2019

Lawsuit Demands IL Dept. of Corrections Protect Trans Woman’s Constitutional Rights

Springfield, IL – The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center and the Uptown People’s Law Center have asked the federal court to force the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) to protect prisoner Janiah Monroe from further abuse and harassment from IDOC employees and prisoners. Ms. Monroe (incarcerated under the number R67440) is a 29-year old transgender woman who has been imprisoned in Illinois since she was 19. She is currently incarcerated at Pontiac Correctional Center, a maximum security men’s prison, where officials refuse to acknowledge that Ms. Monroe is a woman.

Ms. Monroe’s gender dysphoria is so severe that she has attempted self-castration more than once, made several suicide attempts, and has repeatedly engaged in other forms of self-harm. IDOC officials know that transgender women housed in men’s prisons are at a very high risk of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and suicide, yet they have refused to even consider her for a transfer to a women’s prison. In 2017, Ms. Monroe requested transfer to a woman’s prison and her request was categorically denied.

At every men’s prison in which Ms. Monroe has been housed, she has been constantly subjected to sexual violence. Prisoners have threatened her with rape, beating, and harm to her family. Furthermore, correctional staff have targeted her with invasive and inappropriate pat-downs during which officers touch her breasts, buttocks, and genitals.

Ms. Monroe stated: “I have been sexually assaulted at every men’s prison that IDOC put me into, including by IDOC staff. It’s time for IDOC to recognize my gender and take responsibility for keeping me safe. As long as I’m in a men’s prison, IDOC can never protect me from sexual assault.”

“Guards using coercion and unnecessary force is, sadly, widespread in Illinois prisons. But trans women in men’s prisons suffer this abuse more frequently, and at times with deadly consequences. Gendered bigotry shouldn’t be tolerated anywhere, but least of all in our prisons, which are supposed to be places of law,” said Alan Mills of Uptown People’s Law Center, co-counsel on the case. 

The lawsuit requests Ms. Monroe be transferred to a women’s prison to serve the remainder of her sentence, and for her to receive adequate mental health services there.

“The IDOC’s policies and practices almost guarantee that trans women will experience sexual violence inside of Illinois’ prisons, and the IDOC has continually violated Janiah’s most basic rights to be free from violence and discrimination,” said Sheila Bedi of the MacArthur Justice Center, co-counsel on the case. “This lawsuit seeks to hold the IDOC accountable for the harm and trauma it has imposed upon Janiah. And we hope that her struggle will finally force the IDOC to implement the systemic change needed to protect all trans women in Illinois prisons.”

In December 2018 in Illinois, trans woman Strawberry Hampton was transferred from a men’s prison to a women’s prison, after litigation and advocacy by Uptown People’s Law Center and the MacArthur Justice Center.