Crime, Law and Justice

Corrections dept. to move trans woman to Shakopee prison next week

A woman poses in front of the mantle of a fireplace.
Christina Lusk of Minneapolis settled with the Minnesota Department of Corrections after she sued, alleging the department discriminating against her because she's transgender.
Courtesy Erin Hart

The Minnesota Department of Corrections will, for the first time, transfer a trans person to a facility that aligns with their gender identity next week, according to a release from the department.

The move is the result of a settlement between the DOC and Christina Lusk, an incarcerated woman currently being housed at a facility in Moose Lake, Minn.

Since the beginning of her incarceration several years ago, following a guilty plea, Lusk said she’s been subject to misgendering and harassment due to being housed in a men’s facility. In June 2022, Gender Justice and Robins Kaplan LLP sued the department on her behalf, alleging the DOC’s policies and practices were violating the state’s Human Rights Act, as well as the Minnesota Constitution.

As part of the settlement, Lusk will be transferred to the Shakopee women’s prison next week and connected with gender-affirming care and services. According to Jess Braverman, the legal director at Gender Justice, Lusk had been seeking gender-affirming surgery at the time of her arrest.

“[The DOC] repeatedly denied her the care that was medically necessary and appropriate for her,” Braverman said. “So now she should be able to access that care. Hopefully, she will be able to access it, you know, as soon as possible.” Braverman added that if Lusk does not get treatment while in prison, the corrections department would cover “out of pocket expenses.”

Lusk is currently scheduled to be released in May 2024.

The department has also agreed to craft new policies around trans people in custody, such as following the World Professional Association for Transgender Health’s standards of care, and contracting with a WPATH certified health care provider, Braverman said.

“I believe we have made a big step toward allowing people to express who they truly are, and bring some sort of peace and happiness to their lives. This journey has brought extreme challenges, and I have endured so much,” Lusk said in a statement. “My hope is that nobody has to go through the same set of circumstances. I relied on my faith, and I never gave up hope. I can truly say that I am a strong, proud, transgender woman, and my name is Christina Lusk.”

According to a release from the department, its new policies, which came out in January, “[allow] transgender or gender non-conforming individuals to request placement at a facility matching their gender identity. Such requests will be granted unless the requested placement would pose a heightened risk of physical or sexual harm to that person or those housed in the preferred facility.”

The department will also create committees on gender identity “at each facility to review and address requests in a timely manner, including single cell assignments, showering arrangements, and search protocols.”

“The DOC is constitutionally obligated to provide medically necessary care for incarcerated people, which includes treatment for gender dysphoria,” said DOC Commissioner Paul Schnell in the release. “Based on the facts of this specific case, the incarcerated person will now have access to the medical care she needs, she deserves, and we have a legal obligation to provide.”

The department said it currently houses 48 trans people out of a total incarcerated population over 8,000.