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A California jail is paying a big price for mistreating LGBTQ inmates

The "Alternative Lifestyle Tank" was supposedly for their own safety.

CREDIT: 	karenfoleyphotography via iStock / Getty Images Plus
CREDIT: karenfoleyphotography via iStock / Getty Images Plus

The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department has agreed to settle a lawsuit the ACLU filed in 2014 on behalf of hundreds of LGBTQ inmates who were unjustly held in isolation within the county’s jails.

Since 2012, some 600 inmates have been housed in what was actually called the “Alternative Lifestyle Tank.” They were confined to their cells for 23 hours a day and were not allowed access to job training, education, drug rehabilitation, religious, or community re-entry programs. It was only during the one free hour that they could shower, make a phone call, or watch television. This isolation, the jail insisted, was for their own safety.

Lynn Price, a transgender woman represented in the lawsuit, explained to the San Bernardino Sun that she would have participated in the GED program offered at West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga so that she could get a job when she got out, but she wasn’t allowed. “Everybody else, all the non-gay people, they could do the things they wanted to do,” she said. “But us, there was nothing we could do.”

The lawsuit also alleged that LGBTQ inmates were beaten and called derogatory names.

This isn’t an isolated incident. Around the country, transgender people are often forced into solitary confinement for months or years at a time. While solitary confinement is often a punishment for inmates, trans people wind up there not because of their own actions but under the pretense that it’s for their own protection.

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The Prison Rape Elimination Act included provisions designed to mitigate the potential for this kind of discrimination against transgender people, but the Trump administration recently rescinded some of these key protections.

According to the settlement, which still needs to be approved by a federal judge, San Bernardino County has agreed to provide LGBTQ inmates with expanded housing options and access to jail programs, train staffers on LGBTQ safety, form a committee to discuss how to maintain facilities that are safe for LGBTQ people, and also pay out $1 million to be split among those who had been incarcerated in the Alternative Lifestyle Tank.