Ashley Diamond, a transgender woman who sued the state of Georgia for housing her in men's prisons and subjecting her to abuse since 2012, was unexpectedly paroled on Monday following a grueling legal battle.
"I'm overjoyed to be with my family again and out of harm's way," Diamond said after her release. "Although the systematic abuse and assaults I faced for more than three years have left me emotionally and physically scarred, I'll continue to fight for justice and to shine a light on the gross mistreatment of transgender inmates in Georgia and nationwide."
Diamond, 37, filed a lawsuit against the state in February, alleging that prison officials denied her access to hormone treatments and other medical needs, prevented her from expressing her gender identity, and allowed her to be sexually and physically assaulted by other inmates. Her previous requests for transfer to a lower-security level prison were denied.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which represented Diamond, welcomed the news but added that Diamond's parole did not equal justice.
"While we're thrilled that Ashley Diamond is out of prison, our lawsuit is far from over," said SPLC staff attorney Chinyere Ezie. "Ashley has endured more than three years of systematic abuse based on the Georgia Department of Corrections’ unconstitutional policies toward transgender inmates and woeful lack of care."
"Her release does not erase her barbaric treatment by GDC officials, which was tantamount to torture," Ezie continued. "Nor is her plight isolated. We will continue to advocate for an end to prison practices that unfairly punish and inflict pain on transgender inmates."
According to Diamond's lawsuit, she was initially processed into the Georgia correctional system as a male, despite declaring to officers that she was a woman. Since entering prison in 2012, Diamond has suffered 10 sexual assaults, including one which occurred after her lawsuit was filed and correctional officers housed her with a known sex offender.
In addition, she said, being forced to suppress her gender identity has increased her impulses to self-harm. Diamond has survived attempts at suicide and self-castration.
Being barred from self-expression "is the cruelest form of torture I can imagine," Diamond stated in her most recent court filing. "It intensifies my gender dysphoria and creates mental anguish and physical distress by communicating to me that my entire existence is wrong. I am constantly misgendered by GDC personnel who insist on referring to me using male pronouns, calling me demeaning names like ‘faggot,’ ‘he/she’ and ‘it.’"
"Twenty-four hours a day I battle a debilitating and agonizing desire to end my life, because being forced to change my gender and live as male makes me feel like I am already dead."
The parole also comes after the U.S. Department of Justice expressed its support of Diamond's case in a statement of interest filed in April—a move which prompted a policy change by state officials allowing "medically appropriate" treatment for transgender inmates.
Ezie told the New York Times on Monday that she was "very pleasantly surprised" to hear of Diamond's parole and saw it as an auspicious sign. "Departments of correction nationwide are being dragged kicking and screaming into the future, using early release to avoid making substantive changes that will affect transgender inmates’ lives," she said.