While describing abuse at prisons, trans inmates urge lawmakers to pass protections

Legislation would require NDOC to develop regulations

NV Dept of Corrections
“I’ve had staff tell me if I claim to be a woman and bad things happen, I just have to live with it and let it go,” one inmate wrote. (Photo: Nevada Department of Corrections)

In a letter read to lawmakers Monday, Daisy Meadows, a transgender inmate at the Nevada Department of Corrections, described being raped by a male inmate.

Being housed in a male facility, she is forced to live in an environment she said is hostile to transgender people. 

“I’m not in any way innocent and take responsibility for my wrongdoings and offer my sincerest apologies and regrets,” Meadows wrote. “However being raped, beaten, physically assaulted, oppressed, tortured, harassed and forced to be someone I am not has never been a part of my sentence.”

During a hearing for Senate Bill 258, which requires NDOC to adopt regulations around housing, heath care and security for transgender inmates, there were several allegations of mistreatment. 

In addition to the abuse she described, Meadows said prison officials refused to allow her to change her name and gender marker on official documents.

Rachel Whitted, another transgender inmate who had her letter read during testimony, wrote she has been assaulted and beaten while behind bars. She has also been denied gender-affirming procedures including speech therapy. 

“I’ve had staff tell me if I claim to be a woman and bad things happen, I just have to live with it and let it go,” Whitted wrote. “I’ve been verbally and physically harassed by inmates and staff. I’ve even had an inmate ask to cell up with me so they can sexually assault me.”

Lisa Rasmussen, a criminal defense attorney who testified on behalf of Nevada Attorneys for Criminal Justice, said she has represented multiple transgender clients who also alleged sexual assaults and physical attacks by staff and inmates. 

“If any of you think that we don’t have a problem, that we already have a policy, let me tell you and let me assure you, that is not true,” Rasmussen said. 

None of the lawmakers nor Deborah Striplin, the Prison Rape Elimination Act coordinator with the department, who presented alongside bill sponsor state Sen. Melanie Scheible, addressed any of the multiple allegations brought by transgender inmates or their attorneys during testimony.

Striplin told lawmakers that NDOC identified 50 inmates who are transgender.

While it’s a small pocket compared to the more than 11,000 inmates, Scheible said it is an overlooked population. 

The bill, she said, would require NDOC to implement the “best standard practices” to ensure transgender, gender-nonconforming and intersex inmates are treated with dignity and respect while serving sentences. 

“Many people incarcerated at NDOC who identify as gender diverse, as transgender or as intersex have experienced special difficulties in adapting to life within the NDOC and have not been able to receive adequate medical care, access to commissary items and a staff who is properly trained in cultural competence,” Scheible said. 

Striplin said the department follows guidelines outlined by the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) and provides some training for staff interacting with LGBTQ inmates. 

But Holly Welborn, the policy director with the ACLU of Nevada, said the department of corrections has fallen short when it comes to updating policies and complying with best practices around the country.

She said the ACLU has approached corrections officials for years about out-of-date practices and regulations, but hasn’t seen much progress. 

“We have pointed out on numerous occasions the inefficiencies of existing policies,” Welborn said. “While there are policies that exist, there are issues with them. As an example, the medical directive still provides for skin screenings by opposite sex correctional staff without considering if it is appropriate for that particular individual. From our perspective, that’s PREA noncompliant.”

Calls intensified in 2019 when judges on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, whose jurisdiction includes Nevada, ruled in favor of Adree Edmo, a transgender inmate at the Idaho Department of Corrections who was denied gender-affirming surgery. 

“The courts of this jurisdiction are clear that failing to provide medically necessary treatment for gender dysphoria could result in significant injury and the unnecessary infliction of pain on an incarcerated person,” Welborn said. “Disregarding an excessive risk to one’s health and failing to provide medically acceptable care violates the 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

SB 258 doesn’t specifically mandate NDOC to provide hormones or gender-affirming surgery, But the hope is passing the legislation will force the department to adopt regulatory language in line with the court decision. 

The measure would also require cultural competency training of NDOC staff.

Some testifying during the hearing said inmates are often misgendered by staff.  

Rasmussen said in one instance her client asked for a medical form but was given a “mock form for hurt feelings.” She didn’t identify the facility where the incident took place. 

“It requests she put her name in the place where it says whiner’s name,” Rasmussen described. “That she put the place where she said her feelings were hurt, the time her feelings were hurt, the name of the ‘real man’ who hurt her feelings. Then under reason for needing this report, you can check a box that says ‘I am thinned-skinned,’ ‘I am a wimp,’ ‘I have woman like-hormones,’ ‘I am a crybaby,’ ‘I want my mommy.’”

SB 258 was supported by public defenders and groups including Gender Justice Nevada. The measure was opposed by conservative groups including Nevada Families for Freedom. 

During the presentation, Striplin indicated the department of corrections was ‘neutral.’ But no corrections official spoke during testimony to expand on its position.

“I think this enhances our current policy,” Striplin said. “I don’t think it impacts any other inmates. It just makes it better for those who identify as transgender, intersex or gender nonbinary. I think it makes improvements.”

Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years.  He started his career at View Neighborhood News, the community edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. During his seven years with the R-J, he won several first place awards from the Nevada Press Association and was named its 2011 Journalist of Merit. He left the paper in 2017 and spent a year as a freelance journalist accumulating bylines anywhere from The Washington Post to Desert Companion. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues. Born and mostly raised in Las Vegas, Lyle graduated from UNLV with a degree in Journalism and Media Studies. He is currently working on his master's in Communications through an online program at Syracuse University. In his spare time, Lyle cooks through Ina Garten recipes in hopes of one day becoming the successor to the Barefoot Contessa throne. When he isn’t cooking (or eating), he also enjoys reading, running and re-watching episodes of “Parks and Recreation.” He is also in the process of learning kickboxing.