Whitney Washington

  • Hosted by The Project on Addressing Prison Rape
  • Sponsored by Littler Mendelson PC, Uber Technologies, Inc.
  • Service location Washington, District of Columbia
  • Law school American University, Washington College of Law
  • Issue area LGBTQ+ Rights
  • Fellowship class year 2017
  • Program Design Your Own Fellowship

The Project

The ultimate goal of this project is to increase the safety of transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) persons in custody (PIC) and reduce their risk of sexual violence.  I will achieve this goal through education, advocacy, and awareness.  First, I will educate TGNC PIC by distributing packets that contain information about rights, the grievance process, how to be an effective advocate while incarcerated, and resources for emotional support. Second, I will advocate for TGNC PIC by assisting with the grievance process, and where necessary bringing a lawsuit where there has been a violation of individuals 8th Amendment protections.  Finally, I will increase awareness by creating a report detailing the experiences of TGNC PIC, and pro bono attorneys assisting in the project.

TGNC persons are over three times more likely to be incarcerated than the general American Public. Once incarcerated, TGNC PIC are eight times more likely than the general inmate population to experience sexual abuse by a staff member, and are 12 times more likely to experience sexual abuse by another inmate. Notwithstanding the passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) in 2003 and the creation of national PREA standards, sexual violence in prisons continues to be largely unabated. Despite evidence of rampant sexual abuse, complaints filed by TGNC PIC are rarely found to be substantiated and are rarely followed up on. This is likely related to the fact that 93% of grievances under PREA are filed pro se, and many detention systems have extremely short timelines for filing grievances.

Fellowship Highlights

In the first six months, Whitney has:

  • Sent introduction mail to 119 individuals
  • Drafted two Freedom of Information Act requests, one to California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and Homeland security.
  • Drafted a litigation memo about housing and classification of TGNC individuals
  • Drafted/compiled all of the project materials
  • Researched and wrangled amici for an amicus brief for a case in Michigan
  • Visited incarcerated folks and conducted three interviews.

What’s Next

In the next six months, Whitney plans to:

  • Activate the volunteer network and implement the project materials
  • Develop the attorney training
  • Develop the survey to collect data on what is happening in facilities
  • Outline and draft litigation memo on trafficking in the prison context


40 Under 40: Queer Women of Washington

How can legal professionals support transgender prisoners? Whit Washington has an answer.

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