FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Cardozo and Cornell Clinics File Lawsuit on Behalf of Transgender Woman Raped in New York Prison
January 5, 2015 – NEW YORK, NY - Today the Civil Rights Clinic at Cardozo Law School and the LGBT Rights Clinic at Cornell Law School filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in the Southern District of New York on behalf of LeslieAnn Manning, a transgender woman who was brutally raped while incarcerated in a New York State men’s prison. Ms. Manning filed her lawsuit against corrections officials who placed her in a dangerous, unsupervised area knowing that she would face harassment, abuse, and rape from other inmates. She alleges that this treatment violated her rights under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Twenty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court decided a case in which a transgender prisoner, Dee Farmer, alleged deliberate indifference to her safety when she was raped in a men’s prison. In that case, called Farmer v. Brennan, the Court affirmed that where prison officials are deliberately indifferent to a substantial risk of serious harm to a prisoner, they violate her rights under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Ms. Manning’s case is an important effort to hold prison authorities accountable for failure to protect prisoners from rape and sexual abuse. The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), passed unanimously by Congress, requires states to take measures to eliminate sexual abuse of people in custody. Transgender prisoners are particularly vulnerable to sexual assault and violence, especially in male facilities. A California study put the rate of sexual assault for transgender prisoners at an alarming 59% (you can find the study online at http://www.wcl.american.edu/endsilence/documents/ViolenceinCaliforniaCor...) whereas the overall rates are much lower, ranging from 4%-14%.
Ms. Manning was obviously at risk of sexual assault because she is a transgender woman who is also physically weak and frail as a result of several chronic health problems. Yet New York State required her to work in an inadequately supervised area of a men’s maximum security prison where prisoners were not under adequate correctional staff supervision. As a result, she was brutally raped. The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) has failed to properly implement PREA or adopt effective policies to protect transgender women.
Increased transgender visibility has brought the issue of how to accommodate transgender people in sex-specific institutions to the forefront. Nowhere is this issue more salient than in prisons, especially since transgender people are disproportionately likely to be incarcerated because of the discrimination and violence they face in society. Recently, Lambda Legal sued the Texas Prison system on behalf of a transgender prisoner alleging pervasive sexual and physical violence. See, http://www.lambdalegal.org/news/tx_20141023_lambda-files-trans-prisoner-... Furthermore, just weeks ago, the New York City jail system (unlike the state prison system where Ms. Manning resides) opened a housing unit for transgender prisoners.
While New York State has failed take account of the vulnerability of transgender women housed in men’s prisons, other jurisdictions have taken steps to reduce the possibility of attacks like the one inflicted on Ms. Manning. For example, the Denver Sheriff’s Department’s Policy on transgender inmates, see, https://s3.amazonaws.com/static.nicic.gov/Library/026337.pdf states that housing determinations shall not be based solely on a detainee’s birth sex or anatomy and that transgender inmates must be housed safely and in the least restrictive environment possible. Unfortunately for Ms. Manning and others like her, New York has yet to establish policies and practices aimed at protecting them from sexual violence and abuse.
For more information contact:
Assistant Dean of Communications
Director of Media Relations and Communications