Transgender Inmate Suing Ga. Prison System Granted Surprise Early Release

An undated photo of Ashley Diamond.
An undated photo of Ashley Diamond.Courtesy of Ashley Diamond, provided by Southern Poverty Law Center

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By Tim Stelloh

A transgender inmate who is suing the Georgia Department of Corrections for refusing her medical care and disregarding her “substantial vulnerability” to sexual assault was released from prison on Monday, a spokesman for the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles told NBC News.

The inmate, Ashely Diamond, 37, was only three years into an 11 year sentence for a burglary-related parole violation when — to the surprise of her lawyers at the Southern Poverty Law Center — she was granted early parole, an SPLC spokeswoman told NBC News.

“I’m overjoyed to be with my family again and out of harm’s way,” Diamond said, according to an SPLC release.

Steve Hayes, the parole board spokesman, described early releases as unusual, but said that Diamond’s parole had nothing to do with her lawsuit.

“It’s based on the board members’ review of the case file,” he said.

Citing pending litigation, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Corrections declined to comment on Diamond’s lawsuit.

An undated photo of Ashley Diamond.Courtesy of Ashley Diamond, provided by Southern Poverty Law Center

Diamond was diagnosed with gender dysphoria and began receiving hormone treatments 17 years ago.

After being sent to a men's prison in 2012, those treatments “abruptly ended," her lawyer, Chinyere Ezie, told MSNBC earlier this year — despite the recommendations of prison doctors, who said the treatments should continue.

In prison, Diamond’s body changed dramatically. In secret videos that she filmed there — and that were later posted on SPLC’s website — she showed of photos of how she once looked, and how she looked then.

“Morally and ethically, everything that is happening to me is wrong,” she said.

Ezie told MSNBC that a prison policy known as “freeze frame” was to blame. “It denies treatment to transgender individuals, regardless of medical need, regardless of what their clinicians are recommending.”

In an April court filing, the Department of Justice supported Diamond’s lawsuit, calling such policies “unconstitutional,” and saying they “can have serious consequences to the health and well-being of transgender prisoners."

Transgender inmates, the filing notes, are among "the most vulnerable populations incarcerated in our nation’s prisons and jails."

In the video, Diamond said that she wasn’t only concerned with hormone treatment. She described what was happening to her in prison as "a death sentence."

According to the lawsuit, Diamond was placed in solitary confinement for “pretending to be a woman,” and she repeatedly tried to kill herself.

Ezie said that she had been a “victim of no less than seven brutal sexual assaults.”