Lawyer for trans woman hopeful settlement will impact jail policies

Aug 18, 2020

An attorney for a trans woman who sued Steuben County hopes the settlement reached in the case will change jail policies in the future.

Jena Faith sued after being held in a men’s facility while awaiting trial last year.

Faith said she was held in the women’s side of the jail for a few days before being moved to the men’s side. She said she was denied her hormone therapy medication, suffered verbal and physical sexual harassment from other detained people and that the guards were not responsive to her complaints.

New York state law requires prisons and jails to house incarcerated people in facilities consistent with their gender identity. The New York Civil Liberties Union sued the county, along with the Trangender Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the law firm BakerHostetler.

"The agreement establishes one of the strongest jail or prison policies in the nation protecting the rights of transgender, gender nonconforming, non-binary and intersex people in custody," said the NYCLU.

Staff attorney Bobby Hodgson, said while a settlement does not exactly set a legal precedent, Steuben County will adopt a more specific policy regarding the rights of trans people who are incarcerated.

“This is a policy that addresses housing placement, safety, access to medical care, name and pronoun use, search procedures,” Hodgson explained.

Steuben County Sheriff Jim Allard did not return an interview request. However, in a statement, the county recognized that this policy may be "groundbreaking" at the moment, but it is also absolutely necessary "to meet the public safety needs of all of our inmates" and to "ensure compliance with federal and state" protections, the NYCLU noted.

The NYCLU said the New York State Sheriffs’ Association helped negotiate the settlement. Hodgson hopes the association’s involvement means other counties across the state will adopt the policy.

“This is a model that can be used to jurisdictions around the state by jails, by prisons, by other places that want to make sure that they’re following the law when it comes to protecting the rights of trans and gender nonconforming people in their custody,” said Hodgson.

Faith, who is recognized as a woman on government documents, by the VA medical center and by family and friends, expressed that without these rights trans people will continue to be victims of harassment and violence.

WBFO's Marian Hetherly contributed to this story.