Strawberry Hampton, who gained national attention in the fight for transgender rights in prison, has been moved to the female unit of the DuPage County jail — after nearly a year locked up in the male section.
Hampton is a transgender woman who sued the Illinois Department of Corrections in federal court for keeping her locked up in men’s-only prisons. After a legal battle that stretched longer than a year, the department relented and housed her at a prison for women. Hampton was released from that prison in July 2019.
About four months after getting out, Hampton was arrested by Elmhurst police and charged with three counts of residential burglary. Court records show her bond was revoked in June 2020 for failing to appear at a court date; she has been held in the DuPage County jail awaiting trial on those charges ever since.
Up until Tuesday evening, Hampton was locked up with male detainees. That’s despite her requests to be housed with other women, and despite a jail policy on transgender detainees stating that housing “should not be determined solely based on the inmates’ birth sex … or physical anatomy,” and that the person’s “own views with respect to his or her own safety shall be given serious consideration.”
“We are very pleased that the DuPage County Sheriff made the decision to house her appropriately without having to go through prolonged litigation,” said Hampton’s attorney Sheila Bedi. “This is a request that Ms. Hampton had made repeatedly, she had filed grievances. And the reality is that Ms. Hampton is a woman and should have been housed in accordance with her gender from the very beginning of her stay in DuPage County.”
Justin Kmitch, the spokesman for DuPage County Sheriff James Mendrick, said the decision to move Hampton after months of her requesting the transfer came at the advice of DuPage County State’s Attorney Bob Berlin. He would not say why Berlin made that recommendation and Berlin’s office declined to comment, saying communications between the sheriff and the state’s attorney were protected by attorney-client privilege.
“Per our policy, the inmate was housed safely and in the least restrictive setting possible,” Kmitch said. “Until a meeting yesterday with the State’s Attorney’s Office, in which the State’s Attorney’s Office advised Sheriff Mendrick that she should be transferred to the female unit of the DuPage County Jail.”
Kmitch noted that Hampton has spent most of her time at the jail in segregation, away from other detainees, for “disciplinary reasons.”
Bedi said Hampton being held in segregation was irrelevant to whether she should have been moved sooner.
“Regardless of disciplinary status, a trans person is entitled to be held in the placement affirming their gender, and there’s no exception for disciplinary infractions,” Bedi said.
Bedi said the decision to transfer Hampton came after she and her co-counsel sent a letter last week to the sheriff, demanding that Hampton be moved and threatening possible legal action. Bedi said that letter gave Tuesday as the deadline for the sheriff to act. On Tuesday evening, Hampton was moved.
According to Kmitch, there are two other transgender people locked up at the DuPage County jail, one of them is being held in the jail’s “alternative pod,” which is for detainees who do not feel safe with the general population, at her request. The other is being held along with female inmates, despite being a transgender man. Kmitch said he did not know that detainee’s housing preference.
“The most important thing is for correctional authorities to recognize that housing trans people in accordance with their genitals at birth is a form of unlawful discrimination,” Bedi said. “Trans people have the right to be housed safely, securely and in an environment that affirms their gender, and correctional facilities would be wise to to really put into play policies and practices that get them towards that end.”
This story has been updated to clarify comments by DuPage County Sheriff’s Spokesperson Justin Kmitch about Hampton’s time in segregation.