Transgender woman with HIV put in solitary confinement for 6 years in Missouri: Lawsuit

A transgender woman who spent more than 2,000 days in solitary confinement while in a Missouri prison alleges corrections officials discriminated against her because she has HIV.

The unnamed woman is referred to as Jane Roe in a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday in the U.S. Court for the Western District of Missouri. Anne Precythe, director of the Missouri Department of Corrections, and 11 other employees are named as defendants.

The woman, who is Black, said that more than six years in solitary confinement “pushed her beyond the brink,” and that she made attempts to kill herself.

Prolonged solitary confinement can cause anxiety, hallucinations and other serious psychological repercussions.

A report released earlier this year found 11.9% of prisoners in Missouri were in what the state calls “restrictive housing” on a given day, which was higher than the national rate of 6% to 7%.

Corrections officials, the lawsuit said, also enforce a policy that discriminates against people with HIV.

“No person should be subjected to the inhumane and devastating effects of long-term solitary confinement, conditions that Ms. Roe faced every day for more than six years,” Richard Saenz, a senior attorney at civil rights organization Lambda Legal, said in a statement. “We filed this lawsuit to hold the Missouri Department of Corrections accountable for its use of an unconstitutional and discriminatory policy that singles out people living with HIV.”

The corrections department said it does not comment on litigation, adding that it does not automatically segregate HIV-positive prisoners.

‘Arbitrary punishment’

According to the lawsuit, the woman was assaulted by her cellmate at Jefferson City Correctional Center in 2015. Initially, she was the one who was charged.

“As punishment for experiencing a sexual assault and because of her HIV status, Ms. Roe was deemed an ‘immediate or long-term danger to other defenders’ and was placed in solitary confinement,” the lawsuit said.

A corrections department policy says prisoners who are a danger, including those who are violent or sexually active and have HIV, can be sent to solitary confinement.

Attorneys for the woman said she was not sexually active and was on anti-retroviral medication which suppressed the virus.

Even after prosecutors dismissed the charge in 2016, she remained in solitary where she “was regularly exposed to horrific conditions,” the lawsuit said, including “near constant screaming, exposure to light, and the smell of mace and feces.”

She suffered from depression, insomnia and suicidal ideation, and was also denied gender-affirming medical care for three years, the lawsuit said.

Her attorneys alleged that reviews about her solitary confinement placement lasted less than a minute and she was not allowed to speak.

The prison’s “arbitrary punishment and order for solitary confinement were based solely on Ms. Roe’s HIV status,” the lawsuit alleged.

The lawsuit lists five counts including cruel and unusual punishment and violations of due process and the Equal Protection Clause.

The woman was released on parole last year.