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Transgender inmate seeks clemency — cites retaliation after reporting abuse

Inmate Strawberry Hampton has been moved from the Dixon Correctional Center to the Logan Correctional Center. She is seeking clemency. | IDOC via AP

A transgender inmate who was transferred to a women’s prison earlier this year after accusing inmates and guards of sexual abuse at male facilities is now asking Gov. J.B. Pritzker to grant clemency.

Strawberry Hampton, 28, was supposed to be released from Logan Correctional Center in Downstate Lincoln in February, but her lawyers and organizations that back her say she is being penalized for reporting the abuse and harassment she suffered.

Hampton has been prohibited from taking part in programs or work opportunities that would have helped her earn “good time” that would have hastened her release, her supporters contend.

They also accuse officers at the Illinois Department of Corrections of issuing false disciplinary reports that prevented Hampton from being released earlier this year.

Hampton, who was born Deon Hampton, is serving a 10-year sentence for residential burglary. Her new release date is Nov. 27, according to a letter written in support of her clemency petition.

“Our understanding of this is that that the governor could make this happen tomorrow if he wanted to,” said Sheila Bedi, one of lawyers representing Hampton.

Bedi said that as a result of Hampton reporting the sexual abuse she endured officers tacked on false disciplinary reports, which resulted in Hampton being placed in segregation for a while and the calculation of her time served becoming a “shifting target.”

Sheila Bedi, an attorney with the MacArthur Justice Center, at a press conference at City Hall in April 11. File Photo. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times
Sheila Bedi, an attorney with the MacArthur Justice Center, at a press conference at City Hall in April 11. File Photo. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

“Since moving to Logan [Correctional Facility], it’s clear that she will have to serve an extra nine months because of those disciplinary reports,” Bedi said. “As you can imagine it’s quite devastating to her — she’s taken great risks and spoken out with incredible bravery in the hopes that it would make it easier for other trans women in correction’s custody.”

The petition argues Hampton should be released because the false disciplinary tickets unfairly extended her sentence, and she was prohibited from participating in programs that could have allowed her to earn sentencing credit because she’s trans.

Inmate Strawberry Hampton has been moved from the Dixon Correctional Center. | Sun-Times file photo; IDOC
Inmate Strawberry Hampton has been moved from the Dixon Correctional Center. | Sun-Times file photo; IDOC

Corrections officials didn’t allow Hampton to participate in those activities because they feared that “her presence would cause disruption and that security staff would not be able to ensure her safety outside the cell block,” according to the petition for clemency.

In their letter of support to Pritzker, over 30 organizations are seeking immediate action “to correct this grave injustice and allow Ms. Hampton to be home with her community so she can continue her leadership for the rights of trans people and survivors everywhere.”

“You campaigned on a promise to bring justice and equity to Illinois,” the letter of support to Pritzker reads. “Please make good on that promise by granting clemency to Strawberry Hampton.”

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Hampton spent most of the last two and a half years housed in men’s prisons, where she says she faced sexual assault and harassment from other inmates and officers. That sexual abuse led her to self harm, Hampton’s lawyers have previously said.

After a roughly year-long battle, Hampton was moved to Logan Correctional Center, an all-female prison in central Illinois near Springfield.

Before being transferred to Logan, Hampton was incarcerated at a series of all-male prisons — Dixon, Pickneyville and Menard correctional centers, as well as the Lawrence Correctional Center, in Sumner, Ill.

Hampton has filed lawsuits against the Illinois Corrections Department and some of the prisons.

Hampton’s case for clemency has the backing of Black Youth Project 100 and its Chicago branch, the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, Lambda Legal Unitarian Universalist Prison Ministry of Illinois among others.

A spokeswoman for Pritzker said in a statement “the administration takes requests for clemency seriously, and we will review this case.”

Bedi said they have not yet spoken with Pritzker or anyone in his administration, but they hope that he will move quickly on releasing Hampton.

“Our hope is that we can explain this to the governor, to his staff and to legislators to help them understand what has happened here, Bedi said. “Nine months is an incredibly long time, especially for someone who’s lived with the kind of trauma and abuse that Strawberry has because of her imprisonment. Clemency exists for cases like this.”