Transgender Woman Freed From Illinois Prison After Long Battle | WBEZ
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Transgender Woman Released From Illinois Prison After Long Battle

A transgender woman who garnered national attention after making abuse allegations against guards and inmates at multiple Illinois men’s prisons is now free following a public campaign for her release.

Strawberry Hampton was housed at four different Illinois Department of Corrections men’s facilities. She said she faced repeated physical, verbal and sexual abuse from guards and fellow prisoners. Hampton accused staff at Pinckneyville Correctional Center of forcing her to have sex with her cellmate for their entertainment, according to court filings.

“Being in prison, transgender [people] have no rights to their body,” Hampton, 28, said Monday while on her way home to Chicago from Logan Correctional Center, the women’s prison she was eventually transferred to late last year. “They have no right or opinion to anything. What we are told in prison is we are animals.”

Hampton was due to be released from an Illinois prison last February, but she said officers retaliated against her for reporting the alleged abuse by revoking what’s known as good time, and it effectively lengthened her sentence. Hampton was sentenced to 10 years in prison for burglary. She was released Monday because IDOC recommended restoring Hampton's good time, and the Illinois Prisoner Review Board approved its request.

Hampton recently asked Gov. JB Pritzker for clemency, with support from 31 advocacy organizations, but she was released before her petition was considered, her attorneys said. The groups supporting Hampton’s campaign for release include Black Youth Project 100, Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the John Howard Association of Illinois.

IDOC declined to comment on Hampton’s release and allegations. When asked about the case previously, the department has said it takes abuse allegations seriously. 

Hampton has two ongoing lawsuits against the Illinois Department of Corrections for the alleged abuse, according to her lead attorney Vanessa Del Valle, with the MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University.

“I think it was a combination of having those two lawsuits, our clemency petition, our consistent advocacy,” that led to IDOC restoring her good time, Del Valle said. “I think it just all came together.”

Hampton waged a legal battle to be transferred to a women's prison, and in December 2018, IDOC transferred her to Logan Correctional Center. She was due to stay in prison until November 2019.

On Monday, she said while she’s excited to be free, she fears for transgender people across the country who are held in prisons that don’t correspond to their gender identity.

Justice Department data estimates there were over 3,200 transgender inmates in state and federal prisons as of 2012. And nearly 40% reported being victims of sexual misconduct by other inmates and guards. That compares to around 4% of the general prison reporting such abuse.

Mariah Woelfel is a producer at WBEZ. You can follow her on Twitter at @MariahWoelfel.

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