Illinois prison officials are being accused of letting a transgender inmate be harassed and assaulted.
Strawberry Hampton is 27 years old, and her lawyer says she’s lived as a woman since the age of 5.
But the Department of Corrections classifies her as a male, named Deon Hampton — in keeping with Hampton’s birth certificate.
That’s meant housing Hampton in a series of all-male prisons.
“She has been repeatedly physically and verbally harassed — physically attacked — by men, both staff and prisoners, at every men’s prison she’s been housed at,” says her lawyer Alan Mills, with the Uptown People's Law Center.
Hampton is serving time for burglary and could get out next summer. Mills says prior complaints have gotten Hampton moved from Pickneyville to Menard to Lawrence and now Dixon Correctional Center — all male prisons.
“This is about safety,” Mills says. “If the Department of Corrections was able to keep her safe in a man’s facility, then they have an argument. But they’ve now tried four different facilities. Every one has proven that they cannot do it.”
According to Mils, Hampton has also been put in segregation — against the advice of a mental health professional — where she’s made multiple suicide attempts.
He says Illinois is housing 28 transgender women in all-male prisons.
The Department of Corrections declined to answer a list of questions relating to Hampton. Spokeswoman Lindsey Hess says such information is part of an inmate's master file, which is confidential.
But Hess did issue a general statement saying "offender safety is paramount” and "all allegations of sexual abuse and harassment are taken seriously and investigated.”
She also says there have been times when a transgender woman has been assigned to a female facility. “These housing assignments were carefully considered by a team of medical, mental health and security professionals,” Hess said.