Suit: Georgia prison policies on trans inmates still ‘an outrage’

Ashley Diamond, who is imprisoned at Coastal State Prison in Chatham County, has repeatedly come forward publicly to put a spotlight on the treatment of transgender people in prison.

Brenna Beech / WABE

Updated Tuesday at 8:18 a.m.

A transgender woman is suing Georgia prison officials, again, for failing to keep her safe in men’s facilities. Her lawsuit alleges that despite policy changes on paper, little has changed for trans inmates in Georgia. 

Ashley Diamond made national headlines in 2015 when she sued Georgia’s Department of Corrections the first time. The agency released her, paid Diamond a settlement and announced major policy changes for trans inmates that included providing adequate hormone treatments. 

“If they had applied their policy, their criteria that they have on paper to Ashley Diamond, I can’t imagine that we would be suing them,” said Beth Littrell, senior supervising attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center. The nonprofit group, along with the Center for Constitutional Rights, is suing state corrections officials on Diamond’s behalf.  

Littrell said Diamond should have been placed in a women’s facility when she was sent back to prison in 2019. Instead, she’s been subjected to 14 separate sexual assaults since that time, according to the new complaint. The current lawsuit seeks to end Georgia’s prison policy of housing trans women with men. 

2015 Lawsuit 

Ashley Diamond first went to prison in 2012 for probation violations related to burglary charges. Diamond has said she was kicked out of her home as a teenager and struggled to find steady employment as a Black, trans youth in Rome, Georgia. “I needed the money to survive,” she told WABE in a 2015 interview.  

Diamond, who’d been on gender-affirming hormone treatments for 17 years by 2012, was housed with male prisoners during that first sentence. She was repeatedly beaten, raped and denied adequate hormones. Videos she made in prison about the abuse she was enduring made it to advocates on the outside.

The details of her case caused the U.S. Department of Justice to intervene, filing a groundbreaking brief on Diamond’s behalf. Federal attorneys argued the Georgia Department of Corrections’ treatment of trans inmates was unconstitutional. 

The GDC settled with Diamond, reportedly paying her $250,000 and releasing her. Days later, the agency touted policy changes it said would mean trans inmates would be evaluated and given a treatment plan for gender dysphoria, the medical term for wanting to live as a gender other than the one assigned at birth.

A year later, federal attorneys with the Department of Justice began an unprecedented investigation of Georgia’s treatment of LGBTQ state inmates. Little has been heard of the investigation since it was announced in the spring of 2016, under the Obama administration. The federal investigation is mentioned as ongoing in Diamond’s latest complaint, though her lawyers say they don’t know whether it’s “active.”

It’s now five years after Georgia prison officials announced their policy changes toward trans inmates.

“On paper, things look like they’ve changed, but in reality, nothing’s changed,” Littrell said.

Freedom and Hardship

Ashley Diamond was able to survive out of prison for four years. But even more than during her teens, her lawyers say finding steady work and health care as a Black, trans woman in Rome, now on parole and living with extreme trauma from her incarceration, was next to impossible, even with her settlement money. 

Littrell says Diamond paid a heavy tax on the money, her house was burglarized, and she faced major medical bills, as well as friends and family members coming to her for support.    

“Just prior to her re-entry into GDC, she was, at various times homeless and certainly living in poverty,” said Littrell. 

The SPLC attorney said Diamond eventually violated probation when she left the state to try to receive care at a trans-affirming retreat in Florida. By October 2019, she was back in prison. 

2020 Lawsuit

“It’s important for people to understand that this is an outrage, and that placing a woman in a men’s prison is the epitome of cruel and unusual,” Littrell told WABE about Diamond’s current situation.

It’s a situation nearly identical to her first incarceration. Diamond, now 42, “is once again trying to survive brutal and unrelenting abuse and mistreatment,” according to the lawsuit filed Monday. It said she’s been sexually assaulted more than a dozen times, including at her current facility. She’s harassed by prison employees and, despite the official policy change, denied consistent or adequate hormone treatments. She’s filed official complaints about all these violations, to no end.

The lawsuit said Georgia prison officials have ignored their own mental health providers’ recommendations for treatment and safe accommodations. Like during her previous sentence, the complaint said Diamond has attempted suicide and self castration.

Her lawyers want Diamond either released or moved to gender-affirming housing. 

“A woman who’s placed in a men’s prison without any adequate safeguards is highly likely, if not almost certainly going to experience sexual victimization,” said Littrell. “It’s got to stop.” 

Diamond also should be receiving adequate hormone treatments and mental health care, according to GDC’s own policy on trans inmates.  

Georgia’s Department of Corrections told WABE it doesn’t comment on pending litigation. Ashley Diamond’s current maximum prison sentence is set to end in early 2024.