DC Jail to improve transgender housing for inmates as part of lawsuit settlement

The D.C. Department of Corrections (DOC) has agreed to improve its housing policies for transgender people at the D.C. Jail as part of a settlement of a lawsuit brought by the ACLU of the District of Columbia on behalf of a transgender woman who was forced to live in a men’s unit in 2021, according to the ACLU.

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The DOC forced Sunday Hinton, a transgender woman, to live in a men’s unit, at odds with her gender identity, for more than two weeks in May 2021, the ACLU says.

Under the settlement, DOC will implement new safeguards to ensure that transgender people will be housed in accordance with their gender identity upon intake and will limit the time they may be held in isolating "protective custody" status absent the person’s request or specific safety concerns.

Additionally, DOC will end its practice of shackling all "protective custody" residents, including transgender people, while they are being transferred or moved within the jail. 

The policy changes follow additional adjustments DOC has made as a result of Hinton’s case. In June 2021, DOC eliminated from its transgender housing policy a default presumption of housing trans residents according to their anatomy rather than their identity.

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The case continued after these changes because DOC decided to house transgender people in protective custody, comparable to isolation status, when they were first being processed in the jail and to place them in shackles when they were being moved within the jail, the ACLU says.

"No one should face what I had to face at the D.C. Jail. DOC put my safety and mental health at risk, and I’m glad that other trans people at the Jail will be treated with more dignity," said Sunday Hinton.

Hinton spent four weeks at the D.C. Jail in the spring of 2021 after being ordered detained pretrial based on a charge of unarmed burglary with the intent to steal $20—a charge that has since been dismissed.

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"Both the D.C. Jail’s practice of assigning transgender people to housing based on anatomy rather than identity and its decision to place trans residents in unnecessary full-body shackles in protective custody were discriminatory and profoundly harmful," said Scott Michelman, Legal Director of the ACLU of the District of Columbia. "It shouldn’t take a lawsuit to gain recognition of transgender peoples’ basic humanity and dignity, but we’re pleased the Department of Corrections has agreed to change its unlawful policies."

According to the Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality, transgender individuals are over five times more likely than cisgender individuals to be sexually assaulted while in custody.

Before Hinton’s lawsuit, trans individuals confined at the D.C. Jail were regularly housed at odds with their identity and thereby placed at heightened risk of sexual abuse, the ACLU says.


"Sunday Hinton’s courageous fight against discrimination has led to important changes not only for transgender individuals but for all protective custody jail residents, who until now were subjected to the degrading and unjustified practice of full-body shackling," said Rachel Cicurel, Staff Attorney, Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia. "Ms. Hinton's case has exposed several kinds of inhumane treatment by DOC."

Additional information about the case, Hinton v. District of Columbia, can be found here.