Two months after another transgender Illinois inmate was moved to a women’s prison, Janiah Monroe is trying to pressure the state Department of Corrections to move her, too.
A transgender inmate in Illinois is suing the state government, saying its decision to keep her incarcerated at a men’s prison poses a critical safety problem.
WJBC reports that Janiah Monroe, behind bars in Pontiac, filed her lawsuit two months after another transgender prisoner won a year-long legal battle and was ordered transferred to a women’s facility.
Monroe, formerly known and listed on the Illinois Department of Corrections website as Andre Patterson, says the state is doing more than putting her at risk: its negligence has led to her being sexually assaulted. According to Monroe and her attorneys, she’s faced repeated threats and “invasive and inappropriate” pat-downs from prison staff.
“I have been sexually assaulted at every men’s prison that IDOC put me into, including by IDOC staff,” Monroe said in a statement. “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,” she added.
Monroe, notes WJBC.com, was deferred a transfer request two years ago.
Before and since, the 29-year old inmate has attempted suicide at least twice. She’s spent most of her adult life behind bars.
“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,” said Alan Mills of Uptown People’s Law Center, which is acting as co-counsel on Monroe’s case. “Gendered bigotry shouldn’t be tolerated anywhere, but least of all in our prisons, which are supposed to be places of law.”
While the Illinois Department of Corrections doesn’t comment on pending litigation, agency spokeswoman Lindsey Hess said that when it comes to transgender inmates, the IDOC “carefully considers housing assignments and works with a committee comprised of medical, mental health and security professionals when making placements for transgender offenders.”
Sheila Bedi of the MacArthur Justice Center, another co-counsel in Monroe’s case, said the department’s policies are inadequate. If anything, suggests Bedi, they ensure and exacerbate violence against transgender inmates.
“The IDOC’s policies and practices almost guarantee that transwomen 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,” Bedi said.
“This lawsuit seeks to hold the IDOC accountable for the harm and trauma it has imposed upon Janiah,” she added. “And we hope that her struggle will finally force the IDOC to implement the systematic change needed to protect all trans women in Illinois prisons.”
Another transgender Illinois inmate, Strawberry Hampton, was awarded a transfer in December. The judge ordered that the state Department of Corrections provide staff at that prison LGBT sensitivity training.
However, that settlement did not mandate a transfer—the decision was made by the IDOC independently and after “carefully” considering “Hampton’s housing placement.”
Hampton was also represented by the MacArthur Justice Center and Uptown People’s Law Center.
WJBC notes that Monroe is convicted of a “long list of crimes,” including second-degree murder, attempted murder, aggravated battery and aggravated arson; she isn’t expected to be released from prison for another 35 years.