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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 24 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 43
Gay and Trans prisoners sue California Sheriff
Section One
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Gay and Trans prisoners sue California Sheriff

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Fifteen current and former Gay, Bi, and Trans inmates of the San Bernardino County Jail in California have initiated a class action lawsuit against the County Sheriff's Department. The suit was filed on October 22.

According to court documents, all inmates who identify as Gay, Bi, or Trans are sent to the jail's 'Alternative Lifestyle Tank' at the West Valley Detention Center (WVDC). This consists of 16 cells that can hold up to 32 inmates at any one time, and are separate from the rest of the jail.

This particular detention center is the only one in San Bernardino County that houses self-identified GBT inmates.

The plaintiffs say that the 'inmates are not given equal access to opportunities to reduce their sentences, services, programs and facilities, and are often treated in an abusive and neglectful manner. In short, GBT inmates at WVDC serve longer sentences and endure substantially worse conditions of confinement simply because they are Gay, Bisexual or Transgender.

'Unlike the male, non-GBT general population, sentenced GBT inmates at WVDC are generally not allowed to participate in the inmate work program, and, to the extent they may occasionally have limited access, it is substantially less than that available to non-GBT inmates.'

Among other grievances, the suit also alleges that some staff at the jail have an 'unwarranted fear of AIDS' with regards to the GBT inmates, and so 'do not conduct the required safety checks for GBT cells.'

The inmates also allege that they are 'regularly subjected to abusive conduct and derogatory name-calling' by deputies at the jail.

While they acknowledge that authorities claim there is a 'rational basis' for separating inmates according to sexual orientation or gender identity, the plaintiffs believe 'there is no legitimate penological reason to treat GBT inmates worse than non-GBT inmates just because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.'

Plaintiffs are represented by the ACLU and a local law firm, and are seeking damages for the discrimination and mistreatment. As a class action, the suit is filed on behalf of all GBT inmates at the West Valley Detention Center.

'Gay, bisexual and transgender people housed at West Valley Detention Center are punished twice, first for the crimes they allegedly committed, and again, simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,' ACLU attorney Brenden Hamme told CBS News.

'They've been told most frequently that it's for their own safety, but jails are quite capable and are constitutionally mandated to not only provide for the safety of their charges, but to also provide equal access to jail programs and facilities.'

The ACLU believes that the outcome of the case could have ramifications for GBT prisoners in all of California. 'What's happening in San Bernardino County is particularly egregious, but unfortunately, it is not unique,' another ACLU attorney, Melissa Goodman, told Associated Press.

A spokesperson for the San Bernardino Sheriff's Department said that it does not comment on any matters that are subject to ongoing litigation.

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