Southern Poverty Law Center and Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc. v. United States Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Prisons

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Status: Open
Court:
U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York
Issues: Criminal Justice, Criminal Justice and Police Misconduct, Transgender Rights

Lambda Legal and the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Department of Justice and BOP seeking all documents and communications connected to its decision to alter the Manual. The changes weaken protections for transgender people who are incarcerated.

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In January 2017, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) issued its Transgender Offender Manual (the “Manual”).  The Manual followed standards developed by the bipartisan National Prison Rape Elimination Commission. It specifically sought to facilitate implementation of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (“PREA”), passed by Congress in 2003, to address startling statistics showing crisis levels of sexual abuse and assault of people in prison, particularly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and gender nonconforming incarcerated people.  For example, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reported in 2014 that more than one in three transgender people in prison report experiencing sexual abuse by either staff or other inmates in the previous year – a rate nearly 10 times that of the general prison population.

On May 11, 2018, BOP Director Mark S. Inch approved changes to the Transgender Offender Manual, specifically instructing that incarcerated transgender people be placed according to their “biological sex” and should be placed according to their gender identity “only in rare cases.”

On June 22, 2018 Lambda Legal and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and BOP seeking all documents and communications connected to its decision to alter the Manual, including communications with outside advocacy groups. The changes weaken protections for transgender people who are incarcerated and undercut compliance with the federal PREA and constitutional protections.  Despite acknowledging receipt of the requests, DOJ and BOP failed to turn over any of the records requested.

On November 20, 2018 Lambda Legal and the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal lawsuit to compel the Department of Justice and the Board of Prisons to release records about the decision to change the Manual.