(AP) A 26-year-old transgender woman serving a 10-year sentence in Illinois for burglary is seeking a rarely granted transfer to a female prison where she says she'll be less vulnerable to the kinds of sexual assault, taunting and beatings she's been subjected to in male prisons.
Strawberry Hampton (Legal name Deon Hampton) describes in a lawsuit filed last year asking for the transfer how guards and fellow inmates would regularly single her out for brutal treatment at the high-security prison in southern Illinois, Menard Correctional Center, and earlier at Pinckneyville Correctional Center.
A U.S. magistrate judge began a first-of-its-kind evidentiary hearing in Hampton's case Friday in Benton, southeast of St. Louis, to help the court decide whether to order the transfer. The hearing, which will last several days, is focused on Hampton's gender identity and on whether she could pose a risk to female inmates if moved.
While at the Pinckneyville prison, she alleges that guards made her and another transgender inmate perform sex acts on each other as the guards hurled slurs and laughed. When she was transferred to the higher security Menard, she says guards there warned they would retaliate for complaints she made about Pinckneyville guards.
Unable to comfortably represent herself as female in the male prison - where she can't wear her hair or nails long - has also been devastating psychologically, said one filing from her lawyers at the Chicago-based MacArthur Justice Center and the Uptown People's Law Center. "I feel inhuman," Hampton was quoted as saying.
While prison officials do have the option of assigning such male-to-female transgender inmates to women's prisons - it happens infrequently. Federal data from 2016 indicates there were no transgender prisoners in Illinois' two female prisons; there were 28 in the state's 24 male prisons.
Surveys support claims that transgender inmates are at greater risk of abuse.
The latest available Justice Department data estimates there were over 3,200 transgender inmates in state and federal prisons as of 2012. And nearly 40 percent reported being victims of sexual misconduct by other inmates and guards - compared to around 4 percent of the general prison reporting such abuse.