State settles with trans man for $275k over abuse at Beford Hills Correctional Facility

The Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in Bedford, New York.
The Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in Bedford, New York.
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A transgender man is receiving $275,000 in a settlement stemming from abuse he endured four years ago at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in Westchester County.

Trouble first arose when the man, described in the settlement as John Smith to protect his identity, first arrived at a women’s prison known as Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in Bedford Hills, New York, in January of 2020.

The man said employees of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) required him to undergo what he described as “an invasive genital examination” specifically to determine his “genital status,” representing a violation of the Prison Rape Elimination Act and other policies. His subsequent refusal to submit to the examination prompted officials to place him in “medical lock,” a form of solitary confinement that left him alone in his cell for at least 23 hours per day, according to Smith’s lawsuit. Smith is represented by the Legal Aid Society and Paul Hastings LLP.

Smith spent more than a week in solitary confinement — at one point he had to visit the medical unit due to dizziness, fatigue, and nausea — before he finally agreed to a visual examination since he was told that was his only way out of the medical lock.

However, he said officials touched his genitals and penetrated him with a gynecological tool without his consent, according to the lawsuit. As a result, Smith’s post-traumatic stress disorder — which originated from repeated sexual abuse he experienced as a child — was triggered, leading to issues with sleeping and eating as well as exacerbated gender dysphoria, increased anxiety, and aversion to physical touch.

“While this settlement will never completely right what I suffered while incarcerated, it will allow me to move forward with my life, and I’m hopeful that it also puts DOCCS on notice that this behavior will never be tolerated,” Smith said in a written statement provided by his attorneys. 

According to the settlement, Smith filed an initial complaint in August of 2022 before filing amended follow-up complaints in July of 2023 and February of 2024. Both sides reached an agreement in principle on March 14 before hashing out the final details of the settlement.

When reached by email on June 17, DOCCS declined to comment on the settlement but provided background information insisting that the department’s polices are informed by the National Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) Standards from 2012. 

DOCCS also outlined its policies to allow trans and gender-diverse people to self-report their gender identity; obtain state-issued and personal clothing consistent with their gender identity; ban staff from misgendering individuals; promote events such as Pride, Transgender Day of Visibility, and Transgender Day of Awareness; and allow trans and gender diverse people to be housed in accordance with their gender identity following an assessment to ensure health and safety.

“No New Yorker should endure what Mr. Smith experienced in the custody of DOCCS, but his story is tragically emblematic of the plights facing many incarcerated transgender people throughout the state,” Erin Beth Harrist, director of the LGBTQ+ unit at The Legal Aid Society, said in a written statement. “However, with this settlement, we hope that it affords Mr. Smith both some long-awaited justice and much needed closure, and should DOCCS or its employees engage in such a way again, we will hold them responsible for violating the rights of our clients.”