Legal Aid Society


LAS Sues Over Abuses Suffered by Transgender Man While in Custody

The Legal Aid Society and Paul Hastings LLP filed a lawsuit against staff employed by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) over the abuse suffered by their client John Smith, at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, a prison for women in Westchester, New York, as reported by The Appeal.

While going through intake at Bedford Hills, John Smith, who is a transgender man, was ordered by DOCCS staff to submit to a genital examination – a practice specifically prohibited by the Prison Rape Elimination Act. When Mr. Smith refused to submit to the examination, he was placed in solitary confinement for more than a week – a punishment intended to force him to comply.

After relenting to the demands of DOCCS staff and agreeing to a visual examination in order to escape the deplorable and traumatic conditions of solitary confinement, Mr. Smith was assaulted and nonconsensually penetrated in the course of the examination – a clear violation of Mr. Smith’s constitutional rights.

The lawsuit describes the details of these events and outlines the civil rights abuses perpetrated by DOCCS staff that amount to violations of Mr. Smith’s rights under the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

“The horrific mistreatment suffered by our client at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility is unconscionable, and, sadly, is an example of the all too common abuse that transgender people face in the carceral system,” said Erin Beth Harrist, Director of the LGBTQ+ Law & Policy Unit at The Legal Aid Society.

“DOCCS officials’ complete disregard for established laws and rules, and use of solitary confinement to force Mr. Smith to commit to an unnecessary, prohibited, and degrading search, speaks volumes about the transphobia that persists in New York State prisons and jails,” she continued. “We look forward to holding the DOCCS officials accountable in court for their deplorable actions.”