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Female Inmates Sue over BOP Guidelines for Transgender Males

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Three female inmates in a federal prison in Texas have gone to court in an attempt to block a Bureau of Prisons (BOP) policy that requires them to share bathrooms and showers with inmates who identify as transgender females but are biologically male.

On Feb. 15th, inmates Rhonda Fleming, Jeanette Driever, and Charlsa Little sued to block the BOP policy from being applied at the Federal Medical Center Carswell, a medical facility and camp located at the Fort Worth naval air station.

Months earlier, the plaintiffs had attempted but failed to persuade a federal judge in Fort Worth to expand a temporary injunction to include their incarceration site. The temporary injunction blocked an Obama administration directive giving bathroom access to public school students based on their gender identity.

The inmates’ lawsuit claims the current policy forces them to live in a dangerous and degrading environment and share intimate facilities “with men who allege they are women,” but who “openly express their sexual desire” for the female inmates in settings where they are only partially clothed or naked. They also allege transgender men intentionally expose themselves to the female inmates.

Their lawsuit also claims that one male transgender inmate, who was 6’5” and weighed over 200, was assigned to the Special Housing Unit (SHU) of the facility and warned officials there not to assign him to share a cell with a certain female inmate, since if they did, “he would rape her.” Female inmates with SHU assignments, the lawsuit argued, would be “subject to government-sanctioned rape.”

The BOP’s 15-page “Transgender Offender Manual,” issued in mid-January, provides staff with guidance for dealing with “unique issues that arise when working with transgender inmates,” and states the views of transgender or intersex inmates as to their own personal safety “must be given serious consideration.” It also advises that transgender inmates must be allowed to shower separately from other inmates if they so desire. But the manual also advises that housing assignments for transgender or intersex inmates must consider case-by-case the inmate’s health and safety and potential security or management problems.

The Trump administration has already revoked earlier guidance from the Department of Education on transgender students’ access to bathrooms and similar facilities, so the BOP policy could also be revised in the future. But if that doesn’t happen, the female inmates from Fort Worth could face serious difficulties prevailing in their lawsuit, which is before the same judge who granted the injunction against the DOE policy.

In the first place, the three inmates are thus far representing themselves. In addition, the judge hearing their case has already cautioned them, when denying their request to extend his DOE injunction, that challenges to conditions of incarceration first require attempts to win administrative relief from prison officials.

It’s also unlikely to help the case that lead plaintiff Fleming, who’s serving a lengthy sentence as ringleader in a Medicare-Medicaid fraud scheme, has a history of filing unsuccessful lawsuits. In fact, in 2000 a federal appeals court ordered she not be permitted to file in forma pauperis (without paying filing fees, due to indigency) in any federal court, unless able to show she was in imminent danger of serious personal injury.

Possibly complicating matters for the plaintiffs, on March 14, the Texas Senate approved the transgender bathroom bill that would, among other things, impose escalating fines on schools or governments that allow transgender people to use bathrooms that conform with their gender identities. A March 15 vote passed the bill, which requires people to use the public bathroom that corresponds with the sex on their birth certificate.

Christopher Zoukis is the author of Federal Prison Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Surviving the Federal Bureau of Prisons, (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014). He regularly contributes to The Huffington PostNew York Daily News, and Prison Legal News. He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.comPrisonEducation.com and Prisonerresource.com.


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About Christopher Zoukis

Christopher Zoukis, a young writer currently incarcerated at FCC Petersburg (Medium), is an impassioned and active prison education advocate, a legal commentator, and a prolific writer of books, book reviews, and prison law articles. While living in federal prison at various security levels, retaliations for his activism have earned him long stretches in solitary, or "the hole." While in prison, he has earned numerous academic, legal, and ministerial credentials. Christopher is very knowledgeable about prison-related legal issues, prison policy, federal regulations, and case law. He is the author of Federal Prison Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Surviving the Federal Bureau of Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014) and thePrison Education Guide (Prison Legal News Publishing, 2016). A regularly featured contributing writer for The Huffington Post and Prison Legal News, the nation's most prominent prison law publication, Christopher has enjoyed significant media exposure through appearances with the Wall Street Journal's Market Watch, Vice.com, Salon.com, In These Times, The Jeff McArthur Show, The Simi Sara Show,TheCommentary.ca, 88.9 WERS' award-winning "You Are Here" radio segment, and The Examiner. Other articles and book reviews appeared in The New York Journal of Books, the Kansas City Star, The Sacramento Bee, Blog Critics, Midwest Book Review, Basil and Spice, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, AND Magazine, Truth-Out.org, Rain Taxi, and the Education Behind Bars Newsletter, with content syndicated by the Associated Press, Google News, and Yahoo News. He established three websites: PrisonEducation.com, PrisonerResource.com, and ChristopherZoukis.com, and was a former editor of the Education Behind Bars Newsletter. In 2011, his fiction won two PEN American Center Prison Writing Awards for a screenplay and a short story. He taught a popular course on writing and publishing to over 100 fellow prisoners. Today Christopher is successfully working on a Bachelor's Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies (Business/Law) from Adams State University. Following his 2016 graduation, he plans on attending Adams State University's MBA program. He regularly advises fellow prisoners and prison consultants about legal issues and federal regulations governing the Federal Bureau of Prisons operations. Upon release he plans to attend law school and become a federal criminal defense attorney. Christopher will not allow incarceration to waste his years or halt the progress of his life. He began his prison terms as a confused kid who made poor decisions but is today determined to create a better life. "We can't let the past define us," he says. "We have to do something today to make tomorrow what we want it to be."