BALTIMORE — A transgender inmate who says she was called ''it'' and ''some kind of animal'' by guards who watched her shower has won a legal victory that forces the Maryland prison system to better train staff in treating transgender people, advocates say.
Neon Brown, who goes by Sandy, said in a grievance that she was sent to the state prison at Patuxent in February 2014 for a psychological screening. Brown said she was placed in solitary confinement, and kept there for 66 days despite a directive from the jail warden that staff should not segregate her from the rest of the population. During that time, she was routinely harassed by guards who made fun of her while she showered, including one who told her to commit suicide, Brown said in the complaint.
''She told me I should kill myself, and that I'm not a woman, that I'll never be her,'' Brown said of a corrections officer who regularly harassed her.
Administrative Law Judge Denise Oakes Shaffer ruled in August that Brown's treatment violated the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act, saying the prison ''failed to train all employees in how to effectively and professionally communicate with transgender inmates.''
Advocates say the complaint and audits of state prisons in the past year suggest a lack of training on how guards should handle transgender prisoners, and come as transgender issues have become a focal point in the national conversation about gender identity.
But Gerard Shields, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said there has been a ''total shift in agency thinking'' since Brown's complaint was filed. He said the state also has since developed policies for handling transgender inmates.
In her ruling, Shaffer said the guards ''created a hostile environment'' that began shortly after Brown arrived and persisted until she was moved to another facility. Furthermore, Patuxent had no policies on how to treat transgender inmates, in violation of the federal law, Shaffer ruled.
''The majority of Patuxent's witnesses specifically testified that they never had any training with how to work with transgender inmates and further testified that Patuxent did not have any policies in place to provide such guidance,'' Shaffer wrote, adding that the prison's security chief did not know the federal law had specific requirements regarding transgender inmates.