DENVER (CN) - A Denver judge presided over a settlement hearing on Thursday between the Colorado Department of Corrections and a class of trans women who sued after facing gender discrimination, denial of medical treatment and sexual assault as inmates in state custody.
The consent decree filed Wednesday still needs to be reviewed by 400 class members and approved by 2nd Judicial District Judge Jill Dorancy, who was appointed by Democratic Gov. Jared Polis. Roughly half of the class members remain incarcerated.
Led by Kandice Raven, seven trans women sued the Colorado Department of Corrections on Nov. 22, 2019. Because the plaintiffs were born male, the department placed them in men's prisons with little protection from sexual assault.
Several of the transgender plaintiffs were raped while in custody and denied access to treatment for gender dysphoria including medication, therapy and surgery.
"This is not an unusual situation, there are literally thousands of women being housed with men across the country," attorney Paula Greisen, who represents the class, told the court.
"In my 33 years as a lawyer, I've never had a harder case," said Greisen, who practices with the Denver firm King & Greisen.
"I was naive when I started this case to think there was a quick fix, and I quickly learned the issues are novel and take a lot of outside-the-box thinking."
Greisen called the consent decree "a wheel that had not been built before," largely created by experts rather than lawyers.
In addition to paying a $2.1 million settlement to the class, the department has agreed to implement two types of housing solutions: either placement in a voluntary trans unit within men's prisons, or trans women can apply for placement in a women's facility. Both options provide an increased measure of privacy and access to medical care and mental health treatment.
The consent decree is currently sealed by the court as an exhibit.
Assistant Attorney General Heather Kelly told the court reaching a settlement meant navigating the "complexities of managing a prison population with medical and mental healthcare needs," and covered concerns about "strip searches, access to canteen items, safety and security, budget constrains, a change in culture and obviously the monetary damages."
"This is a fair and adequate resolution for this class," Kelly said.
The monetary settlement does not include attorneys fees, which have yet to be brought before the court.
"This is a new area," Judge Dorancy reflected as she posed thoughtful questions about whether parolees receive new protections under the settlement - they don't - and how trans women will be protected from gender discrimination in women's prisons.
If approved by the court, the state would have until January 2025 to implement all of the conditions of the consent decree.
Source: Courthouse News Service