By Patrick Saunders for the Georgia Voice
The transgender Georgia inmate, who filed a federal lawsuit against the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC) alleging she had been denied medical treatment for gender dysphoria and had been sexually assaulted by other inmates, was released on Monday after more than three years in prison. Diamond's case attracted international attention, including a court filing in support of her by the U.S. Justice Department and public outcry from celebrities like Elton John and R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe.
Diamond, 37, was released from Augusta State Medical Prison just days after her attorneys at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) filed documents that included sworn statements from other transgender Georgia inmates claiming that the GDC continues to deny appropriate care to transgender inmates. They also reveal that her warden was fired from a previous position with the GDC after allegedly making homophobic comments to inmates.
Diamond began serving an 11-year sentence for a nonviolent offense in November 2012 and was eligible for her first parole hearing this November but was released to family members at 8:45 a.m. Monday morning.
“I’m overjoyed to be with my family again and out of harm’s way,” Diamond said in a press release from the SPLC. “Although the systematic abuse and assaults I faced for more than three years have left me emotionally and physically scarred, I’ll continue to fight for justice and to shine a light on the gross mistreatment of transgender inmates in Georgia and nationwide.”
Diamond's lawyers filed the federal lawsuit against the GDC in February, claiming that she had been denied medical treatment and had been sexually assaulted by other inmates at Georgia State Prison. Her hormone treatments were restored and GDC officials transferred her to Rutledge State Prison in May. But then Diamond claimed she was sexually assaulted by an inmate in June while in a holding cell back at Georgia State Prison, a stopover on the way from Rutledge to a medical appointment. Then in early August her attorneys filed documents with the court saying that she received threatening letters from other inmates due to Rutledge State Prison Warden Shay Hatcher leaking information about her report of the sexual assault.
In the Aug. 26 court filing, the SPLC included documentation showing Hatcher was terminated from Hays State Prison for misconduct in the year 2000. Among other things, Hatcher allegedly told an inmate to squat by a wall and then placed a gay inmate in front of him to simulate oral sex and said "push it baby, push it on out." The filing also claims Hatcher told an inmate to twirl like a ballerina. He denied the charges but was dismissed from his position.
The filing also included statements from fellow transgender inmates echoing similar treatment to Diamond, including denial of medical treatment and repeated sexual assault. "We are all afraid and need help from the courts to help make the D.O.C. be more helpful to our serious medical needs and safety. We can't fight alone. Please step in," one reads. "Sadness, depression and hopelessness takes me to very dark and sad and sometimes suicidal places. Ashley Diamond and a few others share the same pain," reads another.
“While we’re thrilled that Ashley Diamond is out of prison, our lawsuit is far from over,” said Chinyere Ezie, SPLC staff attorney in a press release. “Ashley has endured more than three years of systematic abuse based on the Georgia Department of Corrections’ unconstitutional policies toward transgender inmates and woeful lack of care. Her release does not erase her barbaric treatment by GDC officials, which was tantamount to torture. Nor is her plight isolated. We will continue to advocate for an end to prison practices that unfairly punish and inflict pain on transgender inmates.”
Georgia Voice has reached out to the Georgia Department of Corrections for comment and has not heard back.
February 2015 - The SPLC files a federal lawsuit against the GDC claiming that Ashley Diamond has been denied medical treatment and had been sexually assaulted by other inmates at Georgia State Prison.
Early April 2015 - The U.S. Department of Justice issues a statement in support of Diamond, saying that denying her hormone treatments is unconstitutional. Elton John and R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe also issued a joint statement, demanding justice for Diamond and all transgender inmates in Georgia.
Mid April 2015 - The GDC restores Diamond’s hormone treatments, although Diamond’s attorneys voice concerns that the dosage appears to be too low to be therapeutic.
Late April 2015 - U.S. District Judge Marc Treadwell denies Diamond’s request to be transferred to a lower-security prison for her safety.
May 2015 - GDC officials agree to transfer Diamond from Georgia State Prison to Rutledge State Prison, a medium security facility in Columbus.
July 2015 - Diamond alleges that she was sexually assaulted in a holding cell at Georgia State Prison, a stopover on the way from Rutledge to a medical appointment in Augusta.
Early August 2015 - Diamond alleges that she received threatening letters from fellow inmates due to Rutledge State Prison Warden Shay Hatcher leaking information from her Prison Rape Elimination Act complaint to fellow inmates.
August, 31 2015 - Diamond is released from prison.