LGBTQ inmates still in peril as DOJ revives Georgia prisons investigation

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The U.S. Department of Justice last month renewed an investigation into whether Georgia prisons protect LGBTQ inmates from sexual abuse by staff and other prisoners.

Ashley Diamond, an incarcerated transgender woman, filed the suit that prompted the department to launch the initial probe in 2016. The effort stalled under the Trump Administration but found new life under President Biden as part of a broader investigation into Georgia’s troubled prison system.

“We are here today to announce that the U.S. Department of Justice is launching a state-wide civil investigation into prisons of Georgia,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said on Sept. 14. “This investigation will be comprehensive but will focus on harm to prisoners resulting from prisoner-on-prisoner violence.”

“We are also investigating sexual abuse of gay, lesbian and transgender prisoners by prisoners and staff,” she added.

Ashley Diamond in 2020.

Worries she ‘will not survive incarceration’

In a federal lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2015, Diamond alleged that she was repeatedly raped, denied medical treatment and otherwise abused while in Georgia prisons. The lawsuit pushed the state Department of Corrections to change its hormone treatment policy for trans inmates.

Augusta State Medical Prison officials freed her later that year. They claimed the release was not related to the lawsuit.

The state settled the lawsuit in 2016 and agreed to pay Diamond $250,000, according to the Associated Press.

Diamond landed back behind bars again in Rome, Ga., in 2018. She filed a federal lawsuit the following year claiming that Floyd County Jail officials denied her medical treatment, kept her in solitary confinement and physically and sexually abused her.

Diamond re-entered prison in October 2019 and filed a new federal lawsuit against the state Department of Corrections the following year. That suit alleged that officials at the Georgia Diagnostic & Classification Prison in Jackson ignored or took part in a dozen violent sexual assaults against her.

Diamond then moved to Coastal State Prison in Savannah, where the attacks continued. Her attorneys in April asked a federal judge for an emergency order to move her to a female facility and protect her health and safety. Attacks and sexual assaults on Diamond occurred 16 times since she returned to prison, she said at the time.

“Unless GDC processes me for a safety transfer and begins giving me the healthcare I need, I worry that I will not survive incarceration,” she said.

Diamond is still in Coastal State Prison.

Ky Peterson.

LGBTQ prison complaints pile up

Diamond’s case is one of several instances of alleged mistreatment of trans inmates in Georgia prisons in recent years.

Trans man Ky Peterson said in 2016 that guards at Pulaski State Prison in Hawkinsville misgendered and mistreated him and did not provide the trans-related healthcare he needed. Peterson was serving a 20-year sentence for involuntary manslaughter after killing the man who was raping him in 2011.

Peterson was denied parole in 2017. He was released from prison in 2020.

In 2018, a trans woman held at the all-male Valdosta State Prison filed a federal lawsuit claiming that guards handcuffed her and cut her hair against her will, leaving her bleeding. Fresalinda Angelica Corporan also alleged that prison officials refused her gender affirmation surgery, and that not allowing her to live as a woman caused her anxiety and depression.

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