Working for Transgender Prisoners

Ms. Sidney is a Black transgender woman who served the majority of her prison sentence in a male federal prison. Ms. Sidney was denied medical care, subjected to physical and sexual abuse and repeated racial and transphobic verbal taunts by staff and other prisoners. Under current medical practices and standards required by the Prison Rape Elimination Act, Ms. Sidney should have received appropriate hormonal treatment and not been housed in segregation as a means of protection.

Her mistreatment Ms._Sidney.JPGbegan the day she entered the prison system. Pursuant to Bureau of Prison usual practice, prisoners who are transgender are initially placed in solitary confinement for thirty days. She was told by an officer that the administration felt that she was going to be a problem because the prison had open dorms and she had breasts.

Ms. Sidney has multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and is partially Deaf; all of which made her time in prison more complicated.Before her imprisonment, she received hormone therapy for eleven years. But, the BOP doctors refused her requests to continue the hormone medications. One doctor explained that he did not want to give her the hormones because she would be “setting up young men” to rape her.

While in the custody of the BOP, Ms. Sidney was raped twice. She was targeted because she was transgender and in frail health. During one of the rapes, she was beaten so badly that she had to be hospitalized afterwards. The correctional officers were dismissive of her claims. One Lieutenant Captain remarked, “he brought it on himself” for “looking like a woman.” Both rapes were found to be “inconclusive” by investigating correctional staff.

Unfortunately, her experience is not unique. Ms. Sidney explains, “Right as we speak, someone is getting raped, brutally raped, because the officers are failing to do their job.” Unfortunately, Ms. Sidney’s mistreatment and abuse are far too common. The DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics revealed that nearly 40% of transgender inmates in state and federal prisons have been sexually victimized in prison.[1]

For years, Ms. Sidney continued to fight for her safety, medical care, and refused to be silenced. She reached out to the Washington Lawyers’ Committee. As a result of our representation, Ms. Sidney was transferred to a halfway house where she was placed in the women’s unit and provided access to essential medical care for her MS, diabetes, and hormone therapy.

After 13 years in the prison system, Ms. Sidney told us, “I was taken from a human being to an animal, and now I’m learning how to be a human being again.”


[1]Allen J. Beck, Ph.D., Bureau of Justice Statistics, Marcus Berzofsky, Dr.P.H., Rachel Caspar, Christopher Krebs, Ph.D., RTI International

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