Trans inmate set free after suing Georgia prisons

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The transgender woman who alleged that she was repeatedly raped, denied medical treatments and otherwise abused while in Georgia prisons has been released early.

Ashley Diamond was freed from the Augusta State Medical Prison just five days after the Southern Poverty Law Center filed additional documents in her ongoing lawsuit against the Georgia Department of Corrections. The papers included sworn statements from other trans inmate showing that, despite a policy change by prison officials, that they continue to deny appropriate care to trans prisoners, according to the SPLC.

Diamond, 37, says she's pleased to be out of prison and safe.

“I’m overjoyed to be with my family again and out of harm’s way,” Diamond said in a statement released by SPLC. “Although the systematic abuse and assaults I faced for more than three years have left me emotionally and physically scarred, I’ll continue to fight for justice and to shine a light on the gross mistreatment of transgender inmates in Georgia and nationwide.”

Diamond began serving an 11-year prison sentence in 2012 after she was convicted on several charges, including burglary, theft by taking and obstruction, stemming from incidents in 2009 and 2011 in Floyd County where Diamond lived.

Diamond was eligible for parole in November but was released to family members on Monday morning, according to SPLC.

Georgia prison officials said Diamond's release was not related to the ongoing lawsuit. Via the AJC:

Steve Hayes, spokesman for the State Board of Pardons and Paroles, said the parole had nothing to do with the lawsuit.

“After reviewing the offender’s parole case file the board determined the offender’s release is compatible with the welfare of society and public safety,” Hayes told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The parole board made the decision Aug 1, Hayes said. The SPLC said Diamond’s first parole hearing was scheduled for November and noted the Justice Department filed court papers supporting the lawsuit, contending Georgia had violated the U.S. Constitution in its polices regarding transgender inmates.

Diamond's complaints and eventual lawsuit pushed the state Department of Corrections to change its hormone treatment policy for trans inmates in April, according to WABE.

But Diamond's treatment remained inadequate for months, according to SPLC, and she was repeatedly punished for her gender and speaking out about her alleged mistreatment. Her case has drawn widespread media attention and an April 3 statement of interest supporting the lawsuit from the Justice Department.

But her alleged mistreatment continued, SPLC asserted in court documents.

Meanwhile, Diamond has continued to suffer preventable sexual assaults. On June 10, she was assaulted after GDC officials placed her in a cell with a known sex offender.

The SPLC’s latest filing states that Diamond remains in “great peril”; that she is still being denied medically necessary care recommended by her providers; and that transgender inmates continue to suffer abuse and be denied medical care despite “surface changes.”

SPLC said that Diamond's release won't stop the lawsuit.

“While we’re thrilled that Ashley Diamond is out of prison, our lawsuit is far from over,” Chinyere Ezie, SPLC staff attorney, said in a prepared statement. “Ashley has endured more than three years of systematic abuse based on the Georgia Department of Corrections’ unconstitutional policies toward transgender inmates and woeful lack of care. Her release does not erase her barbaric treatment by GDC officials, which was tantamount to torture. Nor is her plight isolated. We will continue to advocate for an end to prison practices that unfairly punish and inflict pain on transgender inmates.”

Participants in a #BlackTransLivesMatter rally in Atlanta on Aug. 25 called attention to Diamond's case. At least one wore a t-shirt with her name and the statement, “Protect the Living!!!”

[h/t Georgia Voice]

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