'Landmark' Trans Women Prison Housing Deal Gets Final OK

By Daniel Ducassi | March 26, 2024, 9:16 PM EDT ·

A Colorado state judge on Tuesday approved a consent decree between the state and a class of transgender women who sued over dangerous housing conditions in state prisons and now hope the plan to accommodate their needs will spread to other states.

The consent decree resolves claims in a 2019 class suit that alleged transgender women in Colorado Department of Corrections custody were subjected to discrimination based on their gender identity, including denial of appropriate housing, being subjected to strip searches by male guards and being put at serious risk of sexual violence.

The proposed settlement includes a $2.1 million pot of money to be divided among three tiers of class members. One tier, made up of those who suffered multiple injuries of a sexual nature or multiple serious bodily injuries, are to receive at least $10,000. The second tier, composed of transgender women who suffered a serious bodily injury or an injury of a sexual nature, are slated to get at least $5,000. A final tier, composed of transgender women who suffered a non-nominal injury, will receive at least $1,000.

"It's a landmark consent decree that we hope will fundamentally change how prisons and government facilities treat this community, providing them safe, gender-affirming housing and recognizing that our clients are women, and they need to be treated with dignity and respect," class counsel Paula Greisen of Greisen Medlock LLC told Law360 Tuesday. Greisen said the case is the first to address on a systemic level the needs of transgender women in prisons.

The decree also calls for the creation of a voluntary housing unit for transgender women in the state's prison in Sterling, an "integration unit" with 44 beds for women to ultimately move into the general population at Denver Women's Correctional Facility, as well as improved access to gender-affirming healthcare. All transgender women, regardless of housing placement, would be entitled to the same canteen products as cisgender women.

The decree calls for the state to hire independent experts to consult on issues like housing placement, staff training and mental health, as well as to produce an annual report on compliance.

"This is not a special privilege given to these women," Greisen said. "It's basically just ensuring that they have medically necessary care, not special care, and are given the same privilege and benefits that other people are given."

Taliyah Murphy, a named plaintiff in the case who said she was released from prison in 2020, appeared in court to praise the agreement in a January hearing, predicting "it will serve as a blueprint for other states."

Murphy said in a statement Tuesday that "the changes that have been achieved could make the difference between life and death for some of these women."

District Court Judge Jill D. Dorancy didn't write anything on Tuesday with her final approval, but she praised the transgender women involved in the consent decree at the January hearing.

"These kinds of cases can only happen with the courage of individuals who are experiencing this, when they stand up and make sure they're heard," Judge Dorancy said. "Thank you for being brave enough to do this."

The class includes nearly 400 women, about half of whom are still in prison, according to class counsel.

"While we know prisons will never be safe or healthy environments, our clients are overwhelmingly hopeful to finally access safer spaces and much needed healthcare," said Shawn Thomas Meerkamper, a senior staff attorney at Transgender Law Center. "At a time when cynical politicians around the country are passing laws to attack us based on the color of our skin, what healthcare we need, or because we're transgender, Colorado is showing what it looks like to acknowledge the harm it's done and start to make amends."

Representatives for the Colorado Department of Corrections did not immediately comment Tuesday.

The women are represented by Paula Greisen and Scott Medlock of Greisen Medlock LLC, Lynly S. Egyes and Shawn Thomas Meerkamper of Transgender Law Center and Suneeta Hazra of Arnold & Porter.

The Colorado Department of Corrections is represented by Philip J. Weiser, Heather K. Kelly, Rebecca Johannesen, Jack D. Patten III, Christopher J.L. Diedrich and Mark C. Lockefeer of the Office of the Colorado Attorney General.

The case is Kandace Raven et al. v. Jared Polis et al., case number 2019CV34492, in the 2nd Judicial District of Colorado.

--Editing by Alex Hubbard.

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