After three years of empty promises and ongoing harm to transgender people in the care of the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) a federal court is being asked to find the Department in contempt for failing to provide necessary care for those who are suffering. The request comes in a filing in a case challenging the adequacy of care for transgender people being held inside Illinois correctional facilities.

Nearly three years ago, U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Rosenstengel first granted a preliminary injunction to the plaintiffs in this case ordering IDOC to make systemic changes to care transgender people in their custody.  Following months of missed deadlines and resistance by IDOC to the changes ordered by the court, Judge Rosenstengel held a four day trial in August of 2021.  At the conclusion of that hearing, after listening to the testimony from plaintiffs describing their physical and emotional distress, the court rejected many of IDOC’s arguments for the slow pace of change as “nonsense” and ordered changes to care for transgender people by IDOC quickly. 

But over the months since the court acted, IDOC has systemically failed to obey the orders, even after the court appointed two experts as monitors to investigate and oversee process on implementing the orders. The monitors’ initial reports were issued in the past two months and found system-wide lack of compliance. For that reason, the plaintiffs were forced to seek contempt. 

“IDOC has been under a direct court order for months to make changes for our clients – they have failed,” said Camille Bennett, Director of the Corrections Reform Project at the ACLU of Illinois. “Our clients are suffering and at risk – and it must stop.”

The filing seeking contempt notes, among other failings, that:

  • More than one-third of those who should be receiving hormone treatment are being provided no care. Of those who are receiving hormone treatment, fewer than 1 in 10 transgender women and fewer than 3 in 10 transgender men in IDOC are receiving hormones in line with professional guidelines.
  • Not a single person in IDOC care has received or been scheduled for gender-affirming surgery. Indeed, any assessment of people for surgical care has ceased.
  • Most transgender people in IDOC are housed in facilities inconsistent with their gender identity.  When transgender people are transferred, they are isolated in segregated units with restricted privileges. At least ten IDOC facilities that house transgender inmates have no private showers. 
  • IDOC commissaries are failing to provide gender-affirming clothing and grooming items ordered by the court.
  • Training for IDOC staff is miserable – with not all staff receiving even the basic 30-minute training on respecting and affirming  transgender people. The quality of the training is poor. 

All of these failures to meet the orders of the court have an impact transgender people in their custody in the care of IDOC. IDOC refused to transfer one transgender person who was being raped by a male prisoner. And other class member despondent over her inability to get adequate hormone treatment attempted suicide. 

Today’s filing urges the court to hold an in-person hearing on the contempt request on December 15th and modify the current injunction to ensure short deadlines for IDOC to comply and report on their compliance with the court’s orders.. 

“Our clients continue to suffer because of IDOC’s recalcitrance,” added the ACLU’s Bennett.  “They endure daily physical and emotional harm while IDOC drags its feet.”

“The court should find that IDOC is in contempt.” 

The filing is the latest action in a class action lawsuit filed in January 2018 on behalf of five women – Janiah Monroe, Marilyn Melendez, Lydia Heléna Vision, Sora Kuykendall and Sasha Reed as well as a class of all transgender prisoners in IDOC custody who have requested evaluation or treatment for gender dysphoria.

In December 2019, Chief Judge Rosenstengel granted a preliminary injunction ordering IDOC to overhaul the way that health care for those with gender dysphoria was provided in prisons across the state. The court ordered IDOC to end the practice of using a committee of non-experts to make decisions about medical care for transgender prisoners and to provide medically necessary hormone therapy and social transition treatment, including ceasing the practices of routinely placing transgender prisoners in facilities based on their genitalia or size and forcing transgender prisoners to undergo cross-gender strip searches. But none of those changes have yet been implemented in any meaningful way.

You can find the motion here