A transgender woman in New Jersey was moved to a men’s prison after filing a lawsuit alleging abuse at her facility, and seeking transfer to another facility that houses women, according to her lawyer.
Rae Rollins, 25, is a trans woman, and is listed in the New Jersey Department of Corrections offender database as a woman.
She filed suit against the department and several officials and officers in March, saying she was one of several inmates attacked by corrections officers in January and February at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Clinton. The suit sought damages and a transfer out of Edna Mahan to a county facility that could house women.
However, after filing her suit, Rollins was moved to the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton. As of Monday, she was the only inmate at the facility that the Department of Corrections listed as female.
Oliver Barry, a lawyer for Rollins, declined to give comment on the decision to move her to a men’s facility, or give general comment on the case, citing the ongoing litigation. However, he told CNN his client was seeking “a voice, an opportunity to seek redress under our Constitution for the rights and privileges that are supposed to be afforded to everybody.”
He added, “Our stance is it is not appropriate for Ms. Rollins to be housed in a male facility, and are in discussion with counsel with the Department of Corrections on how to address that.”
On the night of January 11, officers conducted cell extractions of inmates in the Restorative Housing Unit at the Edna Mahan facility, according to the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office. During the operation, inmates were pepper-sprayed and struck, with some receiving serious injuries, the office added. Ten officers had been charged in connection with the operation as of late April, according to the attorney general’s office.
During the incident, Rollins was “struck, punched and kicked, and as a result of that was injured,” according to Barry.
The Department of Corrections said it would not comment on pending litigation. Regarding the incident on January 11, a department spokesperson said it was “immediately referred by the NJDOC to the Office of the Attorney General and Hunterdon County Prosecutors Office for criminal investigation.”
While not commenting on the case involving Rollins, the Department of Corrections said it “reviews all housing placement through the lens of safety and security.”
“Once the NJDOC has established the gender identity of an inmate it will determine the inmate’s facility and housing unit assignment, with a presumption that the inmate will be housed in line with their gender identity. An inmate’s request based on their safety concerns is considered, as is the safety and security of the facility,” spokesperson Liz Velez said in an email.
“Under PREA (the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act), this presumptive placement can be deviated from, based on an individualized review, that takes into consideration factors such as the inmate’s safety,” Velez said.
“Edna Mahan has a long, ugly history — one that has justifiably attracted scrutiny from county, state, and federal investigators,” New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in a February statement. “We must hold the responsible parties accountable, and, we must fix the systemic failures that have made this incident possible.”
The early January incident triggered a joint investigation by the Attorney General’s Office of Public Integrity and Accountability and the Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office, according to the attorney general’s office. Gov. Phil Murphy said he was “sickened by the horrific reports,” and he ordered a full independent investigation by the state’s former comptroller.
Rollins applied for injunctive relief, requesting to be moved to another facility that housed women. But before a judge to could hear that application, the Prison Rape Elimination Act Accommodation Committee moved her to the state prison, where she is currently housed, according to her lawyer and a message from acting Attorney General Jeffrey Feigenbaum to the court.
The committee had decided to move Rollins to “a male facility consistent with her assigned sex,” according to an April 28 message from the attorney general’s office, even though Rollins identifies as a woman and her official sex is listed in department records as female.
The attorney general’s office did not respond to CNN’s questions about the decision to move Rollins to a men’s prison.
One statewide study in California found that, when transgender women were housed with men, the women were 13 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than male prisoners in the same facilties, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality.
Barry is proposing that Rollins be moved to a county correctional facility or out-of-state prison facility, since Edna Mahan is the only state correctional facility set aside for women.
A spokesperson for the attorney general’s office confirmed the office is “engaged in discussions” with Barry but declined to comment on their nature or the case.