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Transgender Inmate Allowed To Be Sexually Abused, Says Lawsuit Against Allegheny County Jail

Virginia Alvino Young
90.5 WESA
Plaintiff Jules Williams and civil rights attorney Alec Wright speak at a press conference Monday.

A lawsuit filed Monday against the Allegheny County Jail and its administration claims the jail allowed a transgender inmate to be repeatedly sexually abused while she was incarcerated with male inmates.

The suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and The Law Offices of Timothy O’Brien on behalf of Jules Williams is seeking damages.

Williams, 37, is recognized as a woman on her birth certificate and state issued I.D., but during various periods of incarceration from 2015 to 2017, she was housed with the male population. She said she was verbally attacked by both inmates and guards and repeatedly sexually abused.

Federal law requires that housing placement for transgender inmates be made on a case-by-case basis taking safety and gender identity into account. A spokesperson for the county said the jail follows a comparable case-by-case state law, but didn't specify whether safety or gender identity influenced the ultimate recommendation. 

On one instance, Williams said she was placed in protective custody while awaiting trial, and a male inmate was placed with her.

“It was over a period of the next four days that Ms. Williams was repeatedly raped by this male inmate, despite her cries for help, including an electronic communication system which is within the cell,” said attorney Alec Wright. He said she was subsequently refused a shower.

Williams said during that instance, she was unable to get assistance from a guard.

“I’d even call out to him, and he’d be like, ‘You know I have 200 guys here I have to answer to, and I can’t stop and answer your questions. You’re going to have to grow up and suck it up,’” she said. “I was told a lot to ‘suck it up.’”

Wright said this is not an isolated incident. He alleges the jail has housed up to several dozen transgender inmates so far this year, and others have faced multiple forms of harassment while housed with male inmates.