During the proceedings of a recent criminal case here in Lethbridge, it became apparent that facilities at Lethbridge Correctional Centre are inadequate for transgender inmates.
Last Wednesday, Judge Jerry LeGrandeur released his sentencing judgement regarding a local trans woman, known only as “HF’ in the document, who had been convicted of two counts of drug trafficking.
HF pled guilty to both counts, which local cops had charged her with after she had twice sold them 3.5 grams of cocaine in May 2018.
Even though the guideline for trafficking is 3 years in prison, the Crown prosecutor, Mark Klassen, recommended that LeGrandeur sentence HF to 2 years, mostly because she pleaded guilty and that she had no prior criminal record.
Wade Hlady, who was defending HF, suggested a suspended sentence instead. Hlady used as his justification for his suggestion HF’s traumatic childhood (being removed from her home and having to live in multiple foster homes, separated from her parents and sister), physical and sexual abuse she experienced, her own mental health (she had been diagnosed with several disorders, include bipolar, PTSD, borderline personality, and suicidal ideation), her transness, her low risk to the public, and the low likelihood of her reoffending.
LeGrandeur ultimately ruled in favour of a 2-year suspended sentence. He cited the points that Hlady had raised regarding trauma, abuse, mental health, and being trans among the reasons for his judgement.
He also mentioned her low risk to reoffend and the progress she had made in her personal life since being charged, such as seeking counselling, cutting off ties with her previous social circles, and holding down a job for a significant time (previously, she’d never held one for longer than 5 months, having been fired multiple times for being trans or having BPD).
One other thing LeGrandeur noted was the lack of accommodations for trans inmates at Lethbridge Correctional Centre.
According to Doug Whillans, the security director at LCC, “as a female, she cannot be housed with males, and with the current physical circumstance of still having male genitalia, she cannot be properly housed with female inmates.”
As such, she’d probably “end up in administrative segregation for a significant period”, not because her actions warranted segregation, but simply because of “her transgender circumstance.”
This meant that simply by being trans, HF would have undue punishment placed on her, compared to if she had been a cisgender inmate.
Whillans described administrative segregation “as probably 23 hours per day with one hour for exercise and showering; the Offender would get canteen, and radio and television, if available, but only by themselves. That person could do some programming available, but again, only on an individual basis.”
Two other incarceration options were presented during the court proceedings.
One of them was housing HF with another trans inmate. Whillans indicated, however, that during his entire time at LCC, he had known of only 1 other trans inmate, so this situation was unlikely, and HF would have to remain in segregation until such a situation arose, if it ever did.
The other solution was to imprison her in Fort Saskatchewan, the only prison in Alberta with facilities that can accommodate trans inmates. Even then, there was no guarantee that this was feasible.
LeGrandeur considered those two options unlikely and was convinced that if HF was incarcerated, her sentence would “be primarily served in administrative segregation”. He felt this would be a greater hardship, that “the consequences of that are to be considered with respect to sentencing.”
Lethbridge isn’t unique, however, in having inadequate facilities for trans inmates.
An article this past December by Myrna Tuttle, a research associate at the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre, pointed out that despite several groups petitioning the Alberta government in 2018 to address policies “concerning transgender, binary and two-spirited inmates housed at provincial correctional facilities”, nothing changed.
The article claims that Alberta, as a whole, “still does not have any policies on the placement of transgender prisoners”.