Transgender woman sues District of Columbia after Department of Corrections houses her in a men's unit

The Department of Corrections Central Detention Facility In Washington, DC, is pictured in  April 2020.

(CNN)A transgender woman is suing the District of Columbia after its Department of Corrections placed her in a men's jail unit despite her telling officials she identifies as a woman, according to a class-action lawsuit filed Tuesday.

Sunday Hinton was placed into DOC custody on April 26 on accusations of "unarmed burglary with the intent to steal twenty dollars," the lawsuit says. When Hinton's public defender asked for her to be moved to a women's unit, the DOC gave Hinton the option of going to a men's unit or "protective custody," within a men's unit, which the American Civil Liberties Union of DC says is essentially solitary confinement.
A DOC policy document states that "For the safety, security and order of the facility, the DOC classifies and houses male and female offenders in separate housing units. DOC shall classify an inmate who has male genitals as a male and one who has female genitals as a female, unless otherwise recommended by the Transgender Housing Committee and approved in accordance with this policy."
The lawsuit filed Tuesday is on behalf of Hinton and other transgender people in DOC custody, and seeks to strike down the DOC policy that determines housing based on anatomy.
"DOC's demeaning policy discriminates against transgender individuals and subjects them to a high risk of physical harm, violating Ms. Hinton's constitutional rights to equal protection and due process, as well as her statutory rights under the D.C. Human Rights Act. DOC's policy also conflicts with federal regulations under the Prison Rape Elimination Act," the ACLU of DC said in a statement.
DOC spokesperson Keena Blackmon told CNN in a statement the department is "dedicated to the safety and security of all residents in its care and custody." When she initially arrived in DOC custody, Hinton was placed into "single-occupancy" quarantine for 14 days in accordance with the agency's Covid-19 protocols, Blackmon said.
"Once that quarantine ends, Ms. Hinton will go before the Transgender Housing Committee to determine her housing based on safety needs, housing availability, and gender identity. DC DOC is sensitive to Ms. Hinton's concerns and will continue to ensure that its residents' needs are met," Blackmon said.

Committee to determine Hinton's placement hasn't met in months

Hinton's lawsuit states that under DOC's written policy, the decision whether to house a detained transgender individual in a men's or women's unit is "presumptively based on their anatomy," unless the DOC's Transgender Housing Committee (THC), a committee tasked with evaluating the vulnerability and safety needs of transgender individuals, recommends otherwise and the warden approves.
However, the lawsuit alleges that the THC has not met since January 2020, and that "for the past 16 months, transgender individuals in DOC custody have been assigned housing based solely on their anatomy."
The lawsuit states that "even when the THC does meet, it is not clear that the THC actually can override the DOC's presumptive placement based on anatomy."
When Hinton did land in DOC's custody, the lawsuit states an official with the agency's Office of General Counsel told Hinton's attorney she would be housed based on her anatomy.
The official asked Hinton's attorney if she had "male parts" and then said if Hinton was "anatomically male," she could only be housed in the men's unit, the lawsuit states.
Hinton's attorney then called a THC official, who said, according to the lawsuit, that the committee determines housing assignments with two factors: whether the individual has had full gender reassignment surgery and whether the individual has had a "heterosexual relationship."
The lawsuit states that Hinton would feel safer in a woman's unit "because she knows that transgender women in men's unit are at risk of sexual violence, including assault or rape."
The lawsuit also states being in "protective custody" was not a "viable alternative for Ms. Hinton" because "conditions in protective custody are uniformly worse than in the general population." Such an assignment could have a negative impact on Hinton's mental health, according to the lawsuit.