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Six transgender inmates sue Illinois Corrections Department

The inmates are alleging inadequate medical care at facilities across the state.

Six transgender inmates filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against the Illinois Department of Corrections, alleging inadequate medical care at facilities across the state.

The department "systematically fails to provide necessary medical treatment" such as hormone therapy for gender dysphoria, a medical condition where a person feels trapped in the body of the wrong sex, according to the complaint filed in southern Illinois. The lawsuit alleges the transgender women's constitutional rights are being violated for "cruel and unusual punishment."

Among the allegations in the suit are "dangerous delays" in evaluation and prescribing treatment, inadequate dosages, failing to adequately monitor care and assigning inmates to facilities that do not match their gender.

"There's a clear pattern of denying, delaying or providing arbitrary care," said John Knight with the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which is representing the women. "The care ultimately provided is abysmal."

The class-action lawsuit seeks immediate medical care for the women, who are being detained at six different Illinois facilities.

The complaint names several Department of Corrections officials and Gov. Bruce Rauner. Spokeswomen for the department and Rauner didn't immediately return messages seeking comment.

A transgender Chicago woman known as Strawberry Hampton is seeking a transfer from a male to a female prison where she says she'll be less vulnerable to abuse.Illinois Department of Corrections via AP

Similar lawsuits have been filed elsewhere, including in Indiana and Wisconsin. In another Illinois lawsuit filed last year, a transgender woman has sought a transfer to a female prison where she claims she'll be safer and less vulnerable sexual assault, taunting and beatings she's been subjected to in male prisons.

The six women's experiences are similar in citing delays or denials of care. The complaint said that can be medically dangerous and has triggered depression and self-harm attempts among the inmates. For example, failing to adequately monitor hormone levels could mean dangerous levels of estrogen, which increases risks for blood clots or strokes.

Knight said ACLU attorneys know of similar complaints from other transgender inmates in Illinois who could join the lawsuit. He estimated there could be at least 50 in custody at any one time, possibly more.