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Advocates Request Treatment For Transgender Inmate

A coalition of 26 advocacy organizations sent a letter to Gov. J.B. Pritzker this week asking him to order the Illinois Department of Corrections to immediately improve its treatment of a suicidal transgender inmate. 

Janiah Monroe, who is isolated in a medical unit, is in danger of committing suicide because of the departments’ refusal recognize her as a woman and its denial of her request to provide surgery to treat gender dysphoria, according to the letter. She's one of five transgender women who have a lawsuit pending against IDOC.

“In Janiah’s case, in particular, her condition has deteriorated so far we're concerned about the level of crisis that she is at, that it really became time to try to raise the issue directly to the governor to try to get her relief before she ends up really killing herself,” said Carolyn Wald, an attorney at ACLU of Illinois, which is representing the five women.

Wald said Monroe’s case is urgent because of the suicide risk, but her mistreatment mirrors the experience of other transgender inmates.

The letter also states: “While Ms. Monroe’s lawyers have asked the federal judge in the Southern District to grant her and other transgender prisoners’ immediate relief, we ask that you require IDOC to take the initiative to address Ms. Monroe’s dire circumstances rather than waiting for the court to order it. Absent immediate action, we fear that Ms. Monroe’s extreme suffering will lead her to take her own life."

Wald said Monroe made a suicide attempt in October.

In August, Monroe was moved from a men's facility to Logan Correctional Center, a women’s prison, under a judge’s order. But according to the letter, that move didn't provide the expected relief.

“We fear that Ms. Monroe is being socially isolated and given substandard medical care because of who she is — a  Black transgender woman. Ms. Monroe was hopeful that at Logan she would be treated as the woman she is, but instead staff have refused to use her female name and pronouns. They call her 'Mr. Patterson, [her surname at birth]' 'it,' or 'whatever the f___ you are,' " the letter states.

Wald said Monroe's requests have been ignored.

“Throughout that time, she has been asking for care, in the form of hormones and surgery and just to have her basic identity respected using the proper pronouns, being allowed to dress and present herself as the woman that she is,” Wald said.

Monroe, 30, was convicted on several charges, including attempted murder and aggravated battery. She has been imprisoned since 2008 and is expected to be paroled in 2051.

The governor’s spokeswoman said, “The Governor believes in ensuring the safety and security of all Illinois residents, including those in correctional settings. We take any allegations of mistreatment seriously and are committed to keeping transgender inmates safe.” She did not say whether the Governor would carry out the letter’s request.

Maureen Foertsch McKinney is news editor and equity and justice beat reporter for NPR Illinois, where she has been on the staff since 2014 after Illinois Issues magazine’s merger with the station. She joined the magazine’s staff in 1998 as projects editor and became managing editor in 2003. Prior to coming to the University of Illinois Springfield, she was an education reporter and copy editor at three local newspapers, including the suburban Chicago Daily Herald, She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Eastern Illinois University and a master’s degree in English from UIS.
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