A transgender inmate is suing Colorado’s corrections agency after she was raped after a judge denied her request for a move.
20-year-old Lindsay Saunders-Velez filed a lawsuit last July with claims that she has been threatened, harassed and assaulted since entering Colorado’s prison system in the spring of 2016. She says she was raped at a men’s prison hours after a federal judge denied her request to stop the prison from keeping her in a disciplinary unit.
Saunders-Velez was sent to prison after violating her plea deal in a menacing case. However, Velez is accusing the state’s prison system of being “discriminatory and dangerous” for transgender offenders. Just last month, her lawyers asked a judge not to send Saunders-Velez to the Territorial Correctional Facility’s “punishment pod” for a disciplinary infraction. The lawyers warned that she could end up being around the same inmates who had tormented her.
However, the judge said the attorneys failed to prove an imminent risk, and rejected their request. Saunders-Velez, was attacked in the pod and spent more than a week in the infirmary. Lawyers argue that her case reflects the threats and abuse transgender people face in prisons across the country, according to her attorney Paula Greisen.
“This issue is not going to go away,” she said. “We’re going to fight it until these individuals are treated with the respect they deserve.”
According to court records, male inmates would often remove a privacy screen that shielded Saunders-Velez from view whenever she used the bathroom in her cell. She said other prisoners threatened her, and in December she reported an inmate sexually assaulted her during a brief transfer to another Colorado prison.
Saunder’s lawyers say in order “to escape,” Saunders-Velez would swallow razors. In July, Saunders-Velez filed a handwritten complaint arguing her right to protection against cruel and unusual punishment was violated. She wrote that she “has been out as a trans female since age 4” and was diagnosed with gender dysphoria in 2016 while in the youth corrections system. She began hormone treatments in 2017, and wrote that she soon developed a “feminine shape.”
Reports say prison staff denied her requests to be called Lindsay or identify her using female pronouns. The report also says her requests to be searched by female guards and buy women’s undergarments and facial hair remover were also rejected.
Statistics show that in 2012 there were about 3,200 inmates in America’s state and federal prisons that identify as transgender, according to the latest available data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. About 40 percent of transgender inmates reported being a victim of sexual abuse by another inmate or prison staff member.
Local agencies in New York City and San Francisco have begun housing transgender inmates with fellow inmates of the gender they identify with. In Colorado, at least one other inmate is suing the Corrections Department over its treatment of transgender people.
Take a look at images of Saunder-Velez and other transgender inmates below.