SFF Hazelton: Transgender Females Allegedly Sexually Abusing Females

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  • Source: UncoverDC
  • 07/09/2024
The nation's prison system is over capacity and upside down. Talk to anyone who has spent time in federal prison, and they will tell you it is dysfunctional on so many levels, including that every prison that houses women in the country has transgender individuals living and sharing intimate spaces with biological women. Advocates for transgender females will tell you that there is no danger to biological women. However, reports from a group of women in SFF Hazelton—a women's prison in W. Virginia—tell a different story.

The Biden administration restored Obama's policies on transgender individuals in the nation's federal prisons in early 2022. Biden's Justice Department began reviewing transgender prison policies in early 2021. Trump reversed some of the guidelines in 2018, encouraging decisions about placement on a "case-by-case" and not solely based on gender identity. However, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) reissued the Obama-era Transgender Offender Manual in January 2022.

I was reminded of this policy shift because I regularly correspond with J6 defendants now in federal women's prisons. A group of women now write to me regularly from SFF Hazelton—two are J6ers. In the cases where I have not been explicitly given permission to include their names, I have redacted their identities.

All of the female correspondents report in their letters that transgender females have raped and sexually harassed vulnerable females in the facility. According to their reports, some transgender females allegedly live in the same cells as biological women.

According to BOP statistics, as of June 27, 2024, there are 158,778 Federal inmates in BOP Custody. Zero are housed in privately managed facilities, and 14,076 are housed in "other types of facilities." As of 2022, six of the 27 facilities that hold women hold women exclusively, and 21 are co-ed.

Inmate gender statistics show that females comprise 6.8% of inmates in federal custody—10,601 females. Males constitute 93.2%—145,836 males in total. According to BOP, currently, "There are 1,424 transgender females (biological males) and 765 transgender males in BOP custody." That means transgender individuals make up roughly 13.4% of the individuals housed in women's prisons. At the end of 2022, "About 1 in 48 adult U.S. residents (2%) was under some form of correctional supervision," an estimated 5,407,300 persons.

SFF Hazelton Inmate Correspondence: Transgender Females Raping or Sexually Abusing Women
I received a packet of letters from 10 women currently incarcerated at SFF Hazelton. Either collaboratively or individually, the women shared their perspectives on the hardships of prison. Many of their concerns focused on transgender individuals in the facility. However, they also spoke about allegations of severely deficient medical care for serious illnesses like cancer, the use of illegal drugs to treat women, retaliation for not obeying rules by staff, insufficient nutrition or time to eat a meal, and substandard conditions overall at Hazelton.

FCI Hazelton is a co-ed medium-security prison with a low-security Secure Female Facility (SFF) that shares the same property location. Inmates at low-security prisons are afforded privileges that those incarcerated in medium—to high-security prisons are not. However, according to some of the letters, low-security guidelines are being disregarded.

One of the inmates, Lisa Biron, has been in the prison system for 12 years, serving a 40-year sentence "on a wrongful conviction." One of Biron's complaints, confirmed by a couple of the others, is that SFF Hazelton requires them to leave their mail unsealed, a privilege reportedly allowed to individuals incarcerated at low-security prisons. In her correspondence, Biron reports Hazelton "heightens security, in violation of policy, as if they were running a men's higher security prison."

Biron requested her letter be sent to several politicians so that they could investigate the facility. The letter was addressed to W. Virginia U.S. Attorney Ihlenfeld, Rep. Alexander Mooney (R-WV), Rep. Carol Miller (R-WV), Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), Sen.Joe Manchin (I-WV), and Sen. Shelley Capito (R-WV). 

Biron, formerly a licensed attorney, was previously incarcerated in three other low-security female facilities: FCI Danbury, FMC Carswell, and FCI Waseca. Biron wrote that while "there were, of course, deficiencies at each of my former facilities," SFF Hazelton is the most "dysfunctional" of all—"truly a rogue female facility."

Women at Hazelton Worry for Their Safety While Sharing Spaces with Transgender Females
The letters contain many examples of poor treatment and alleged failures to follow BOP guidelines. However, the most troubling of the complaints pertains to transgender females (biological males) who are being placed in their facility. In some cases, they are allegedly in the same cells as women or sharing shower facilities, according to the letters.

Deference to gender identity and not biological sex as a criterion for placement is causing significant issues for the women housed at SFF Hazelton. All of the women described instances of rape, sexual harassment, and beatings, none of which have been adequately addressed by the staff.

In the letter below, the author shares her fears about a fellow J6 defendant not getting the cancer treatments she needs. However, the most alarming part is her mention of women being in danger when "housed with biological males. I can tell you horror stories," she continued. "One woman was recently put in the SHU after experiencing abuse from a male. Another man was shipped off the compound after having sex with multiple women, seven who filed complaints..." 

One of the other women wrote the following:

"I did not care about prisoners until I became one. I never understood the dire circumstances they endure. It is insanity to be housed with biological males. One of the many things I did not expect was living beside a man. Yes, I said a man. He is former military. He revels in the attention from females and he is happy to be housed with us. I cannot grasp the wisdom of the decision to intermix males with females. Several staff members voiced their own concerns. I do not blame the staff at my facility. This issue is larger than their positions...As an inmate directly affected by the situation, I believe the answer would be an alternative prison for them. Please, for those who do not have a voice, speak to your representative about co-ed imprisonment. I urge you to take a stand before the situation continues to spiral out of control."

Another shared the following in the letter below, "There are not only transgenders here but real men in this women's prison. I don't understand how this is legal or even a real thing...They are more protected than us women in this secure federal female prison."

About the feeling that transgender females are "more protected" than inmates who are biological women, there may be some truth to that statement. Transgender individuals have their own Transgender Executive Council (TEC), as confirmed below by DOJ policy.

The existence and operation of TEC were also confirmed in one of the responses to UncoverDC's questions sent via email to Emery Nelson in the Office of Public Affairs in the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The questions asked by UncoverDC and the BOP's responses can be viewed in full here. One of the responses stated, "There are approximately ten (10) facilities housing gender-affirming placements; however, that is a fluid number due to transfers."

All 27 women's facilities house transgender females, not just 10, according to PREA audit reports. UncoverDC reviewed the nationwide PREA audit reports for all women's federal prison facilities. All housed transgender individuals at the time of the audits, which took place between 2021 and 2023.

The TEC provides an additional layer of advocacy with guidelines catering to transgender individuals. These guidelines include specifics on pat-downs, types of undergarments offered, sharing cells and bathroom facilities, "vulnerability to sexual victimization," medical and mental health needs, including medications and treatments for transitioning while in prison. TEC guidelines also allow for binding materials for breasts while, according to the letters, biological women are not being provided the proper undergarments.

There seems to be a big discrepancy between stated BOP policies on what happens to a transgender female if "she" sexually abuses or harasses a biological female. The BOP's response to question 10 from UDC asking how prisons protect victims during an investigation of sexual abuse was markedly different from reality if the women at Hazelton are to be believed.

10. How do you protect the victim of sexual abuse or harassment during your investigation? PREA Standard 115.42 states a correctional/detention institution must safeguard an alleged victim from the alleged perpetrator immediately upon being notified of the allegation. Safeguarding, per the PREA Standard, requires physical separation (e.g., Housing changes, transfers for the victim or accused abuser, removal of the accused employee or incarcerated individual from contact with the victim), a medical intervention, a mental health intervention, and access to support services through a Rape Crisis Center Memorandum of Understanding or, if not available, through Agency employees trained to fulfill that role (e.g., Psychologist, Chaplain.)

In reality, follow-through for sexual abuse is poor. Removal of the perpetrator is not always immediate. According to the letters, transgender individuals are often left where they are or allowed to maintain contact with biological females and the victim. Moreover, several of the women at Hazelton reported an incident where the victim was put in the SHU for reporting the abuse and not the perpetrator. Several women also stated in their letters that "nothing was done" about the sexual abuse by transgender individuals at Hazelton.

When asked whether transgender individuals share cells with biological women, the response was not specific, "Unit Management employees review the housing unit status for all adults in our custody." As for showers and bathrooms, the response was as follows, "All adults in our custody are given the opportunity to shower separately in accordance with PREA standards." 

All of the women at Hazelton reported issues with either firsthand or witness accounts of abuse due to sharing cells or shower rooms with transgender females, reports that do not jive with the BOP's policies or responses. There seems to be a gap between theory and practice when it comes to the safety of biological women who are housed with transgender females. The two excerpts below were written collaboratively by a group of women at Hazelton.

A sampling of the letters written by individual women is provided below. Passages referencing significant incidents or issues with transgender individuals are highlighted:

Finally, one letter describes the proclivities of the males who have left and those currently housed in the women's facility. The males described have allegedly been charged with rape of adults and children, child pornography, and sexual abuse. They are now in prison, allegedly abusing or harassing female prisoners. The two-page description of the males can be viewed below:

Federal Prisons: PREA Audits

UncoverDC looked into federal women's prisons and the issue of sexual abuse by reviewing Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA)audits of all 27 facilities that house women. One of those prisons that is not on the list, MCC New York, has closed and is now under investigation due to the fatal incident of Jeffrey Epstein. The global PREA report for 2023 can be found here.

PREA was established to audit prisons for allegations of sexual abuse in federal prisons. The standards allegedly allow auditors to "assess and improve the effectiveness of its sexual abuse prevention, detection, and response policies, practices, and training" in a "uniform" fashion. 

Interestingly, one of the prisons, FCC Coleman, is the largest in the nation. It was also not included on the list of women's PREA facilities. The prison was mentioned in a December 2022 Senate Staff Report concerning sexual abuse of female inmates in federal prisons. FCC Coleman was listed in the report along with three others: MCC New York, MDC Brooklyn, and FCI Dublin.

The four prisons were investigated because of recurring allegations of sexual abuse of female prisoners by male BOP employees between 2012 and 2022. Sexual contact between BOP employees and inmates is a federal crime and is also subject to BOP administrative sanctions.

FCC Coleman is located in Sumterville, Florida, and is the largest in the country. It now holds 6,000 male inmates. It is not on the current PREA audit list of women's facilities because, in April 2021, BOP transferred all female prisoners to other facilities due to public allegations of sexual abuse.


2022 Senate Report On Prisons Confirms Prisons are Not Successfully Implementing PREA

A 2022 Senate Staff Report states, "The U.S. Government paid at least 1.25 million to settle a civil lawsuit brought by 15 women." Eight employees were accused of sexual abuse. "Six were found to have engaged in sexual conduct with at least ten of the plaintiffs." The report focused on staff-on-inmate sexual abuse and made no mention of transgender individuals as a threat to women in the facilities.

Among the issues the Senate report found are the following:

  • BOP does not systematically analyze PREA complaint data.
  • BOP has failed to implement PREA successfully.
  • BOP fails to hold employees accountable for misconduct.
  • There is a backlog of approximately 8,000 misconduct cases.
  • PREA audits are flawed, failing to detect the culture of sexual abuse of female prisoners by employees at FCC Coleman and FCI Dublin.
  • OIG lacks the resources to pursue criminal investigations of BOP employees.
  • BOP's response to sexual abuse is deficient.
  • BOP employees sexually abused female prisoners in at least two-thirds of the facilities housing women. (19 out of 29 at the time)
PREA Data: Hazelton and Other Prisons

Hazelton's PREA audit was conducted in February 2023. At the time of the audit, the entire facility had 2867 inmates. However, an SFF Hazelton-specific audit in February 2023 also shows that the women's facility has a rated capacity of 317 inmates but was housing 517 women at the time of the review. This represents a 3% increase from 2019 when the previous audit was performed.

The audit included all prison facilities on the Hazelton campus. According to its website, "Hazelton Federal Correctional Institution is a medium-security  located in Bruceton Mills, West Virginia. It is also known as FCI Hazelton and Hazelton WV . The facility houses male . Secure Female Facility (SFF) Hazelton is next to the central institution and houses medium-security female inmates."

Hazelton's 2023 audit was a "follow-up" report on recommendations made in 2019. According to the 2019 report, there were issues with mass punishment, programming staffing, triple bunking, lengthy wait times for medical and dental care (an ongoing concern according to one of the letters and the review), issues with mental health and trauma, and not enough female staff members. According to the report, some things have changed for the better, but not impressively so.  

A few patterns emerged while looking at the PREA audits on women's prisons. The PREA audits reviewed by UncoverDC were performed between 2021 and 2023, with dates varying based on location. In general, PREA audits are conducted over a period of a couple of days—sometimes, there are interim audits and then a final report. In a couple of instances, UncoverDC could not collect data because of the way the reports were written. During a PREA visit, auditors interview a sampling of staff and inmates, including transgender individuals. They also collect data separate from the interviews.

One of the aims of this column was to track the number of transgender individuals housed in each of the prisons, the incidence of reported sexual abuse, and whether the abuse was investigated and how. The number of transgender individuals ranges from under ten in a facility to, in some facilities, 100 or more. All of the facilities are geared toward adults 18 and older. 13 of the 27 facilities have operated or are operating overcapacity in the 12 months prior to the audit. All of the prisons housing women also house transgender individuals.

A stand-out data point was that there was not one prison on the list whose audit found the prison "did not meet the standards." All of the prisons met or exceeded the standards, according to the audit reports. 

When sexual abuse is present, two investigations may take place—one administrative and the other criminal. The criminal investigation seems to be secondary to the administrative because almost all the investigations were administrative and not criminal. There were very few instances of criminal investigations or referrals for prosecution. Most of the prisons reviewed had no referrals for prosecution, and the incidents were found to be "unsubstantiated or unfounded" allegations. These data points seem consistent with the findings of the Senate report.

Most of the sexual abuse reported was inmate-on-inmate, according to the reports. There were, however, also instances of staff-on-inmate sexual abuse.

The PREA audit for Hazelton showed 48 transgender individuals housed at the time of the audit in February 2023. There were five inmate-on-inmate sexual abuse reports and two staff-on-inmate reports. There were seven administrative investigations and zero criminal investigations. 

There were some outlier facilities on the list. FMC Carswell in Houston houses a high number of transgender individuals (58). It also had a high incidence of reported sexual abuse. Notably, Carswell is a women-only (ages 20-87) prison, operating over capacity at the time with a rated capacity of 1230 inmates and operation with an average daily population of 1373.

The PREA auditor for Carswell found allegations of 12 inmate-on-inmate instances of sexual abuse and 14 staff-on-inmate at the time of the visit. There were nine criminal investigations at Carswell, all staff-on-inmate abuses. All were referred for prosecution, an unusual data point. Carswell far exceeded the other prisons in criminal referrals—36 detainees reported sexual abuse at the facility at the time of the audit on March 15-17, 2022. There were 26 allegations of sexual abuse in the 12 months before the audit. None were indicted, and none were convicted at the time of the audit.

Some Women's Prisons House Over 120 Transgender Females

FCC Tucson is a co-ed administrative medium-high security facility that houses 127 transgender individuals. There were 20 inmate-on-inmate sexual abuse allegations and five staff-on-inmate reports of sexual abuse, totaling 25. In addition, FCC Tucson conducted seven criminal investigations and 25 administrative investigations. There were seven ongoing criminal investigations (Three inmate-on-inmate and four staff-on-inmate). Four of the allegations were allegedly unfounded, and 14 were allegedly unsubstantiated.

FCI Aliceville in Alabama is a low-minimum security women's prison with a camp housing women only ages 19-76, and the facility had 128 transgender individuals in 2023. The Aliceville PREA audit was conducted June 6-8, 2023. 21 individuals reported sexual abuse "as of the first day of the onsite audit." During the 12 months previous, there were four allegations of inmate-on-inmate sexual abuse and two staff-on-inmate. There were a total of six administrative investigations and no criminal investigations. All six were allegedly found to be "unsubstantiated."

Placing transgender females in women's prisons is probably ill-advised. Yet, the Biden administration has continued the practice of placing biological males who have a record of sexual abuse with women. Ironically, the very people who have long advocated for separate spaces (Title lX) and women's safety have pushed public policy to the most absurd levels, all in the name of equity and inclusion. 

The conditions at Hazelton may well represent what is going on in other women's BOP facilities. There seems to be a disconnect between the standards and guidelines set by the BOP and what is really going on inside prison walls, especially concerning the realities of housing biological women and men together in what is arguably one of the most stressful living environments. 

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