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Federal judge orders Illinois' prisons to allow transgender inmates to pick housing based on gender identity

Prisons also have to provide access to 'gender-affirming clothing and grooming items'

ROBYN BECK/AFP | Getty Images

A federal court has ruled that prisons in the state of Illinois must provide access to hormone therapy for transgender inmates and must let inmates choose which facility they go to based on their gender identity.

In a 39-page court order dated earlier this month, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois ruled that the Illinois Department of Corrections make multiple sweeping changes in how it deals with transgender inmates, which includes a mandate to "ensure timely hormone therapy is provided when necessary and perform routine monitoring of hormone levels," and a prohibition on "mechanically assigning housing based on genitalia and/or physical size or appearance."

The class action lawsuit was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of five transgender inmates who identify as women for all prisoners in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections, claiming that the agency's policies had violated transgender prisoners' constitutional rights against facing cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. According to the plaintiffs, the disputed prison policies denied inmates proper medical treatment for gender dysphoria.

The order was handed down by Judge Nancy Rosenstengel, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama. In the order, she also directs state corrections officials to develop policies to allow the "social transition" of transgender inmates, which includes "individualized placement determinations, avoidance of cross-gender strip searches, and access to gender-affirming clothing and grooming items."

"The Court recognizes that these changes will take time, but it in light of the serious deficiencies in IDOC's treatment of transgender inmates set forth above, the undersigned seeks assurance that progress is underway," the order concludes. "There is a long way to go, and the issue must be promptly addressed."

Ghirlandi Guidetti, staff attorney of the LGBTQ & HIV Project at the ACLU of Illinois called the decision "a sweeping victory for our clients, who have been subject to unspeakable harm by a Department of Corrections that has truly been deliberately indifferent to our clients' suffering."

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