NC to transfer transgender prison inmate to women’s facility by summer
The N.C. Department of Public Safety will move a transgender female inmate to a women’s facility by this summer, according to a letter to her attorney.
Kanautica Zayre-Brown has been incarcerated in North Carolina men’s facilities for more than a year, a violation of federal law, according to the ACLU of North Carolina, which is representing her and announced her pending transfer in a news release Friday.
The move is believed to be a first for North Carolina. Zayre-Brown’s supporters repeatedly called on Gov. Roy Cooper to take her out of dangerous confinement and to address the safety of other transgender prisoners within the state’s system.
“I feel good that there is a plan in place, but I will feel much better when my transfer is finalized,” Zayre-Brown said in the release. “My mental health is still depleting, and I would have broken a long time ago if it weren’t for the community behind me. They give me the strength to keep going.”
In a letter to ACLU staff attorney Sneha Shah, a Department of Public Safety attorney said Zayre-Brown will be transferred no later than Aug. 22, 2019. It did not name a facility.
“An August move will allow DPS to continue researching and implementing best practices from the states that have transferred transgender women to female facilities,” according to the letter from DPS general counsel Jane Ammons Gilchrist.
In its release, the ACLU said its fight isn’t over.
“Each day that Kanautica is held in a men’s facility is a day that her constitutional rights are violated and her health compromised,” said Chase Strangio, attorney for the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV Project. “We will stay vigilant until she is transferred and then for the rest of her sentence until she is released. So many trans women across the country — particularly Black trans women — are funneled into the criminal legal system where they face severe risk of harm once incarcerated. Our community is under attack and we are working to minimize that violence.”
Zayre-Brown belongs in a women’s facility, Shah said in the release.
“It should never have taken this long for officials to recognize that Kanautica’s health, safety, and dignity are all jeopardized by keeping her in a men’s facility,” Shah said. “We will keep fighting to make sure that she is transferred to a women’s facility as soon as possible.”
The ACLU sent officials a letter on March 4 demanding Zayre-Brown’s transfer.
In 2017, Zayre-Brown went to prison as a habitual felon, convicted of insurance fraud and obtaining property by false pretenses, The News & Observer has reported.
In February, Zayre-Brown told the newspaper she has had to fight to receive hormone treatments, and she showers and dresses among male inmates and is issued men’s underwear. The state recognizes her as male and refers to her by her birth name, Kevin Chestnut, which she had legally changed.
Zayre-Brown was moved on March 28 to Warren Correctional Institution in Manson, where she has been housed in a single cell instead of an open dormitory, DPS spokesman John Bull said by email Friday night.
Earlier this year, Jeremy Collins, the director of community engagement for Cooper, said the governor had contacted DPS director Erik Hooks about a remedy for transgender prisoners.