Who is being sued?
As indicated in the name of the case, Does v. Wash. State Dept. of Corrections, the Washington Department of Corrections and the secretary of the Washington Department of Corrections are being sued on behalf of a group of people who are currently and formerly incarcerated.
Are the original requestors of information being sued?
No, only the Department of Corrections is being sued. Those who requested information were given notice of our lawsuit and named as “interested parties” in this case so that they may remain updated and have the opportunity to provide their perspective should they so choose.
Why was the lawsuit filed?
The lawsuit against DOC was filed to protect the safety and privacy of people identified by DOC as transgender, non-binary, and intersex and to stop the dangerous disclosure of private information to the public.
Didn’t one of the original requests ask for the size of the transgender population in DOC custody? How is that private?
In general, the Department of Corrections is not under an obligation to create records in response to a Public Records Act request. Instead, they will provide records from which the requestor can answer their own question. This means that in response to a request for information about the size of the transgender population, DOC may provide raw, individual, and personally identifiable information. DOC collects private health information and other extremely sensitive information for the purposes of managing the heightened risks of sexual and physical violence that transgender, non-binary, and intersex people face in custody. DOC policies state the information will be kept confidential and they go to considerable lengths to ensure confidentiality when gathering and analyzing this information in order to protect the safety and privacy of those identified. This lawsuit is meant to protect that personal information.
How could disclosing this information harm individuals?
The records request will ultimately force disclosure of, among other things, certain screening information that captures known indicators of an increased likelihood of experiencing in-custody sexual victimization. The Prison Rape Elimination Act requires DOC to request that people disclose certain very personal information upon entry to DOC prisons. Two of the most important predictors of an increased vulnerability in prison are whether an incarcerated person identifies as transgender, and whether the person has experienced prior sexual abuse. Releasing both types of information would be harmful to incarcerated people, and would increase their already heightened risk of future sexual abuse.
Transgender people are well aware of the dangers they face simply due to their gender identity, and are forced to constantly assess their safety when they decide whether to disclose their transgender identity. Prisoners will often disclose sensitive information in response to safety screenings, with the understanding that the disclosure will help keep them safer in prison. But they are never truly safe. Releasing information that identifies transgender prisoners (or survivors of sexual abuse) in any identifiable way could exponentially increase the likelihood that they will experience sexual abuse in prison, as well as cause significant harm to their mental health. In a disturbing irony, the same information collected under federal law to keep incarcerated transgender people safer will instead be used for the exact opposite purpose: to target this already at-risk population.
What actions has the court taken to date?
The court issued a temporary restraining order, which means that the Department of Corrections is temporarily enjoined from releasing the requested information until the court can examine the issue further.
Who is being sued?