US – As an increasing number of states across the country cave under mounting social and legal pressure from activist organizations that are fighting for biologically male inmates to be placed in women’s facilities, a flurry of male prisoners in the US have demanded access to women’s prisons under the changing laws.
Janiah Monroe, aged 29 and previously named Andre Patterson, recently won his battle against the state of Illinois to be granted access to a women’s prison. Mr Monroe’s rap sheet includes convictions for second-degree murder, attempted murder, aggravated battery and attempted aggravated arson.
At age 17, Mr Monroe strangled to death Kimani Muhammad, his 31-year-old male jail cell mate, during an argument. At the time of the homicide, Mr Monroe was being held on suspicion of aggravated battery with a firearm after shooting two people outside a barber shop.
The violent felon says he was subjected to “constant sexual harassment,” and feared for his life over the decade he spent in men’s prison. Responding to Mr Monroe’s pleas, MacArthur Justice Center and the Uptown People’s Law Center filed a lawsuit demanding that Mr Monroe be transferred to a women’s facility. Illinois complied, moving the prisoner from Pontiac Correctional Center to Logan on April 1.
Similarly, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of North Carolina attorney Sneha Shah declared about the case of her client, career felon Kanautica Zayre-Brown: “She is being housed in an all-male prison in Harnett County, that she is forced to shower amongst men openly, not given any privacy to change or to shower. She is forced to sleep amongst men.” The situation is causing “escalating distress” to the 37-year-old habitual offender, his attorney says, though Zayre-Brown admits he has never been attacked by other inmates.
The ACLU gave no word on whether female inmates would or should be afforded the privacy to change, sleep and shower away from the biologically male Mr Zayre-Brown. Female inmates are survivors of sexual abuse at such high rates that researchers have speculated that sexual abuse may be a “pathway to prison” for women. Many female inmates suffer from post-traumatic stress disorders, depressive disorders and substance use disorders as a result of history of sexual trauma. In addition, female inmates are routinely sexually terrorized by male guards at what Amnesty International USA described as “crisis” rates. Social justice organizations have taken little action on this issue, while seeking to cage the vulnerable women in with male people.
In Mr Zayre-Brown’s case, the ACLU threatened to file a lawsuit against North Carolina if the state did not move him to a women’s facility by the organization’s arbitrary deadline. 500 individuals, including representatives of various activist groups, signed a petition that was delivered to Governor Cooper.
On March 28, Mr Zayre-Brown was given his own cell at Warren Correctional Institution in Manson, a men’s facility. Department of Public Safety spokesperson John Bull said the “eventual goal” is “moving Zayre-Brown to a female facility.” The convict was named Kevin Chestnut before he was granted a legal name change, a wig and cosmetic surgeries.
As with convicted murderer Janiah Monroe, 27-year-old male convict Deon Hampton, who now goes by the moniker “Strawberry,” was transferred to Logan Correctional Center following a grueling legal battle. Mr Hampton says he suffered sexual abuse from guards and fellow inmates while serving a 10-year sentence for residential burglary. Mr Hampton was moved to the women’s facility on December 28, 2018. Released from prison on July 8, he vows to fight “for everyone that was done like me.”
Mr Zayre-Brown, hoping to share the good fortune of Mr Hampton and Mr Monroe, says all he wants is “fairness”: “I am a female,” he claims. “I am going to be treated as a female. I want the state to recognize me as a female and treat me accordingly.”
“There are many more Janiahs in IDOC custody,” Vanessa del Valle of the MacArthur Justice Center said in a statement that some women’s advocates find threatening due to its implications for female inmates. “Until IDOC overhauls its policies and procedures and until staff is effectively retrained, trans women in IDOC custody remain at great risk for sexual violence and abuse.”
The fear of women’s advocates like Sheila Jeffreys that men could become the dominant population in women’s prisons seem plausible. Currently, only 6.8 percent of inmates in the US are women. Most of these women are incarcerated for property crimes. Meanwhile, 21 percent of men who identify as transgender women have spent time in prison or jail, compared with five percent of the rest of the population.
In UK prisons, 48% of transgender inmates are sexual offenders. The UK’s policy of allowing inmates to choose their sex and be housed accordingly had to be partially reversed in February after several biologically male transgender inmates sexually attacked imprisoned women.
UPDATED Thursday, July 9, 2019 11:02 PM Coordinated Universal Time (UTC): Added information about Strawberry Hampton’s release.
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