Transgender inmate's abuse claim heard in federal court

Ashley Diamond filed a federal lawsuit in February claiming prison officials were not allowing her to receive hormone treatments

By Joe Kovac Jr.
The Macon Telegraph

MACON, Ga. — A federal judge in Macon on Thursday held off ruling on a transgender Georgia State Prison inmate’s emergency motion asking that she be transferred from the Reidsville lockup to avoid sexual assault.

The inmate, Ashley Alton Diamond, 36, has been in prison for three years on Floyd County convictions for theft, obstruction and escape.

In February, when Diamond was being held at a prison in Milledgeville, she filed a federal lawsuit claiming Georgia prison officials were not allowing her to receive hormone treatments. She also alleged she wasn’t safe there.

She was recently moved to Reidsville but contends assaults on her have continued.

Thursday, U.S. District Judge Marc Treadwell said testimony from Diamond and possibly others at the southeast Georgia prison may be necessary before he makes a decision on her motion.

Treadwell, however, citing a “tectonic shift” in Georgia Department of Corrections policy this week, told Diamond’s lawyers that at least some of her claims may have been addressed.

The state prison system’s new procedure for dealing with transgender inmates states, in part, that “if a diagnosis of Gender Dysphoria is reached, a treatment plan will be developed that promotes the physical and mental health of the patient. The development of the treatment plan is not solely dependent on services provided or the offender’s life experiences prior to incarceration.”

The procedural change came days after a Justice Department court filing in which government attorneys said there is “a strong likelihood” that Diamond would prevail on her claims against the Department of Corrections and its policies regarding the treatment of gender dysphoria.

Failing to provide adequate treatment for such transgender inmates constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment, the Justice Department’s filing said. Blanket prohibitions against such treatment are unconstitutional because they fail to provide individualized assessment and treatment of a serious medical need.

In court Thursday, Treadwell, addressing one of Diamond’s attorneys, David Dinielli of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said, “I think it’s fair for you to look at this, you and your client, as having achieved phenomenal success in a very short period of time.”

Treadwell added that even though the prison system’s policy change didn’t address all the issues in Diamond’s lawsuit, “there’s no doubt about it, the circumstances ... as they relate to transgender inmates have dramatically changed in just the last few days.”

The government, in Friday’s filing, urged Treadwell to find that Diamond has a “substantial likelihood of success on the merits of her claims.” It also recommended that he declare the Department of Corrections’ “freeze-frame” policy unconstitutional and issue appropriate injunctive relief.

A “freeze-frame” policy prohibits initiating new treatments for gender dysphoria for prisoners who either did not receive such treatments in the community, or who were not identified as transgender and referred for such treatment during the prison intake process.

Diamond filed suit to combat that policy and obtain the treatment recommended by state prison clinicians.

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