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Allegheny County Sued for Mistreatment of Transgender Prisoner

In 2015 Williams was raped multiple times by an inmate in Allegheny County Jail. (TheZachMorrisExperience/Wikimedia Commons)
In 2015 Williams was raped multiple times by an inmate in Allegheny County Jail. (TheZachMorrisExperience/Wikimedia Commons)
November 7, 2017

PITTSBURGH – Allegheny County is being sued by a transgender woman who was sexually and verbally abused while in the county jail.

Jules Williams has lived as a woman for years and her gender identity is affirmed by her state-issued identification and birth certificate.

But according to Sara Rose, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Pennsylvania, none of that mattered when she was arrested. And on three separate occasions over three years, jail staff insisted on housing her in the men's section of the jail.

"She suffered severe sexual abuse, harassment and assault, including being sexually assaulted by another inmate who was placed in the same cell with her despite her request for protective custody," she says.

A spokesperson for the county said the policy is that, within 72 hours of admission, transgender inmates are interviewed by a committee which then makes a recommendation to the warden.

But Rose says no matter what the policy may be, interviews with a number of transgender people who've been incarcerated indicates that the practice at the Allegheny County Jail is standard throughout the state.

"It's pretty clear that the jails and prisons in Pennsylvania just basically default to housing people based on the sex that they're assigned at birth," she notes.

Federal law requires prisons and jails to make housing decisions on a case-by-case basis, taking the inmate's preferences into account.

And Rose points out that Williams suffered more than physical assault in the jail.

"She has spent her whole life trying to establish her gender identity, and to have the country then turn around and say no, we're not going to recognize your gender identity is very harmful to her," she laments.

The lawsuit seeks monetary damages and a change in jail procedures for deciding whether to house transgender inmates with men or women.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA