Ashley Diamond won her lawsuit—but Georgia is still holding this trans woman in a men’s prison
Though they won a crucial victory for incarcerated trans people in Georgia six years ago, Ashley Diamond remains behind bars, held in a men’s prison where her life is in danger, according to her attorneys. But new evidence in her case may mean relief for the activist, who continues to fight for transition-related care and protection from violence.
Lawyers with the legal advocacy groups Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the Center for Constitutional Rights allege that Diamond has suffered two more sexual assaults at Coastal State Prison in Savannah, Georgia, since her last hearing in May.
They also say that these assaults—including one perpetrated by multiple men—have led her to attempt to take her own life.
As a result, her attorneys renewed their request for emergency relief on Tuesday, asking that she receive protection from attacks and retaliation and be transferred to a female facility. In a statement accompanying the renewed request, Diamond’s legal team claims that the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC) has refused to review evidence in Diamond’s case. The first emergency request was filed earlier this year, in April.
“It’s not part of the ‘punishment,’ for people who are serving time, to be sexually abused, harassed and assaulted, day in and day out,” says Chinyere Ezie, a senior attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights and one of the lawyers working on Diamond’s case. “It is, in fact, the definition of cruel and unusual punishment.”
Diamond, a Black trans woman, was initially incarcerated in 2012 after being charged with burglary, for pawning a used electric saw her boyfriend had stolen. During her initial incarceration, she reported being sexually and physically assaulted at least eight times, and claimed the GDC denied her hormone treatments. According to her lawyers, she attempted suicide multiple times.
Diamond’s case made national headlines in 2015 after the Department of Justice (DOJ), then under the Obama administration, filed a statement of interest in her case. In the statement, the DOJ agreed that the GDC policies that resulted in cutting off Diamond’s hormones were unconstitutional. She was subsequently released on parole in February 2016 after serving less than a third of her term, and reached a settlement that same year that prompted reforms to GDC hormone policies.
Diamond was reincarcerated for a technical parole violation in 2019 after she left the state to go to a treatment centre in Florida for her post-traumatic stress disorder. She subsequently filed a second complaint in November 2020, claiming that the GDC had failed to protect her from sexual assault and provide her with adequate health care once again.
Because she won her first lawsuit, and both lawsuits have led to DOJ investigations, Diamond’s lawyers allege that the GDC’s continued neglect and refusal to transfer her constitutes retaliation. In a recent release announcing new evidence in the case, lawyers allege that the GDC has mounted a “smear campaign” against Diamond, charging her with a “barrage of specious infractions” in order to prevent her from getting early release.
“As a result of the retaliation I’ve described, and because all of my efforts to report sexual abuse and mistreatment have been disregarded, reporting sexual assaults within GDC continues to feel dangerous as well as pointless,” Diamond says in a statement. “I still fear for my life if I report assaults and sexual misconduct by gang-affiliated aggressors, of which there are several.
“And although I’m sexually harassed so often it is impossible for me to document each incident, my complaints to GDC staff have also gone nowhere,” she adds.
Unfortunately, Diamond’s treatment is common when it comes to incarcerated trans people—in particular trans women of colour. More than a third of incarcerated trans people report being harassed by either corrections officers (37 percent) or their peers (35 percent), according to the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE). Trans women are frequently housed in men’s facilities, where they are often placed in solitary confinement for extended periods of time, allegedly for their own “protection.”
Trans people and people living with HIV are frequently denied essential health care behind bars. This sometimes results in death, as in the case of Layleen Xtravaganza Cubilette-Polanco, who suffered a fatal seizure in New York’s Rikers Island facility in 2019 as guards failed to intervene.
Despite the dehumanization Diamond continues to face, Ezie says her client has remained resilient and determined in the face of abuse—but that, more importantly, she shouldn’t need to.
“No one should have to be resilient in the manners that Ms. Diamond has been forced to,” Ezie says. “No one should have to deal with constant sexual abuse, coersion and harassment day in and day out, such that their survival becomes somewhat of a miracle.
“We are fighting for a world where transgender women in prison don’t have to be resilient or brave,” she adds. “They can just serve their time until we’re able to abolish the systems that criminalize poverty and discrimination in their entirety.”