Why is she in an adult jail?

June 10, 2014

Eric Maroney reports on the struggle to win the release of an abused transgender woman from incarceration in an adult prison.

AFTER BEING held for months in near solitary conditions at York Correctional Facility, a high-security adult women's prison in Niantic, Conn., a 16-year-old transgender woman of color known as "Jane Doe" will finally be transferred to a treatment facility in Massachusetts.

Jane Doe was transferred out of Department of Children and Families (DCF) custody and into the correctional system in early April and continues to be held without charges. Jane and her advocates have detailed a long and tragic history of physical, sexual and verbal abuse from both family members and DCF workers at the Connecticut Children's Place, where she has been housed in the past. Her case exemplifies the intense gender policing our society produces, as well as the failure of institutions to provide meaningful care for youths who are most in need.

In a letter Jane wrote to Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy asking for help, she pleads, "I have been sitting in this prison for a month now, and there is no plan to get me out. I am suffering in here. I'm having trouble sleeping, and I'm not eating much. I cry in bed every night. I can't be myself in this place. I feel forgotten and thrown away."

Supporters of Jane Doe protest outside the Niantic prison where she has been held
Supporters of Jane Doe protest outside the Niantic prison where she has been held

Activists, local and national, have responded to her pleas. Nationally, her case has been highlighted on Colorlines, in Mother Jones, on National Public Radio, and by trans* writer and activist Janet Mock in an open letter.

Locally, activists have continued to pressure DCF Commissioner Joette Katz, through a series of protests that have helped publicize Jane's struggle.

On May 24, activists gathered at DCF headquarters in Hartford and then marched to the Capitol to demand justice for Jane Doe. The demonstration brought over 70 participants to the Capitol, where speakers made links between racism and transphobia, citing that trans* women of color are most often the victims of hate crimes and sexual violence. Connections between economic instability, the state's role in disciplining workers and the prison-industrial complex were also noted.

Daniel Adam of Mobilizing to Defend Our Rights charged, "We have no institutions, no facilities to help someone like Jane Doe, and yet we live in the richest country in the world."

As Jane and her supporters demanded a more just placement in a DCF facility for young women, Gayge Maggio of Rebellious Nurses reminded the crowd that "a DCF facility is only a little less horrible than prison."

Jane's experience reminds us that the institutions of the state do not serve to protect those most in need, but instead serve to protect an economic system that depends on a strict dichotomy of gender expression. There is little room for individuals like Jane in a ruthless, profit-driven system that rewards only the wealthiest of players, because her identity falls outside the paradigm of "appropriate" social reproductive expression.

Just as we see a heightened attack on women, whether it be the campus rape epidemic and institutional excusal of rapists or the tragedy in Isla Vista, trans* people also face heightened conditions of oppression that become magnified in this period of economic instability and austerity.

In a moment when the ruling class is pairing down the services provided by the state (we see this in the cuts to education, early child care, health care, etc.), rigidly defined sex roles become even more important to the functioning of the system. Jane Doe finds herself incarcerated in an adult correctional facility precisely when cuts to social safety nets leave individuals like her self most vulnerable.

Further Reading

From the archives