Orange is Not the New Black: Justice for Jane Doe

ladycleverJane Doe is sixteen years old. She has never been convicted of any crime. She has never been charged with any crime. And she is currently being held in solitary confinement in an adult prison.

Jane, a transgender girl of color, was first placed in the custody of the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) when she was four years old. Her affidavit reveals a horrifying history of abandonment, neglect, sexual abuse, rape, and violence at the hands of many caretakers, including DCF social workers. “I feel that DCF has failed to protect me from harm,” Jane writes in the heart-wrenching document, “and I am now thrown in prison because they have refused to help me.”

Given her traumatic experiences with sexual abuse, it’s not hard to understand why Jane reacted the way she did when a male staff member at her juvenile institution allegedly “bear hugged her from behind.”

According to the DCF, Jane blinded one institution staff member during the incident and broke another’s jaw. The state’s police report of the incident, however, tells a different story: the staff members suffered only “minor injuries.”

In Jane’s own words, “I didn’t blind anyone or break their jaw.”

The courts agreed with Jane, and all charges were dropped.

Still, she remains incarcerated, completely isolated in a solitary jail cell for twenty-two hours per day. She has no access to therapy. She has no access to education. She is completely alone. For the simple act of defending herself in a potentially dangerous situation, Jane is being treated like a violent criminal.

And because she is transgender, she is on the cusp of being transferred to a male prison.

In Connecticut, as in much of the rest of the United States, transgender people who have not undergone genital surgery are often sorted into prison housing on the basis of their biological sex. No matter how long a trans woman has lived as a woman, no matter if she is undergoing hormone replacement therapy, or other non-gential gender-affirming treatment, the prison system will classify her as a man.

Whenever a trans woman is incarcerated alongside men she is put at tremendous risk of trans-misogynistic assault and sexual violence. Occasionally, to protect against this abuse, trans women may be held in solitary confinement, away from the general male prison population. But the price of this safety is exclusion from recreational activities, work and education programs, and rehabilitative social interaction.

Under the watch of the Department of Children and Families, Jane has been subject to both types of treatment. She spent two incident-free months at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School, a DCF facility for boys, before being transferred to solitary confinement at York Correctional, an adult women’s prison. But rather than transfer Jane from York to a DCF institution for abused girls, Connecticut’s Department of Correction is now considering transferring her to the Manson Youth Institution, a high-security prison for young male offenders.

Just how broken is a system that sends a sixteen-year-old girl with no criminal record to a high-security men’s prison?

Jane’s case has garnered a tremendous amount of sympathy and attention within the trans community, including support from such eminent trans women of color as Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, and Cece McDonald, who, like Jane, has unfairly borne the brunt of the justice system’s racism and transphobia.

Last week, trans activists held rallies in Hartford, outside of the DCF’s headquarters, and in New York City, outside the Administration for Children’s Services. The Hartford event drew  forty supporters and garnered significant local press attention. But not much more outside of that. A petition to free Jane, posted by the Yale Undergraduate Prison Project, has collected over 2,000 signatures.

In spite of all this public outcry, the DCF refuses to budge. Jane remains incarcerated, without no prospect of being released or transferred to a therapeutic facility.

Still, organizers have hope that, with enough help, they can put pressure on the DCF and free Jane. Here are a few simple ways that you can pitch in, and help Jane build a future:

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