Saunders-Velez v. Colorado Department of Corrections

TLC Case | Issue area: Prisons and Policing

Year: 2019

Court: Colorado

Status: Settled

Lindsay Saunders-Velez is a young, Black transgender woman who fought for her safety and to be treated for who she is by the Colorado Department of Corrections (“CDOC”) where she was in custody. Growing up in foster care and the juvenile correctional system, Lindsay became an incredible advocate for herself and other transgender people in custody at an early age. Though she successfully advocated to be housed with other girls in the juvenile system, at age 19 Lindsay was sent to a men’s prison. Since then, Lindsay has had to constantly negotiate her safety and demand respect from other incarcerated people and from CDOC staff who refuse to address her by her name and pronouns, and have punished her for living as a woman, writing her up for grooming herself or wearing female undergarments.

After several of her grievances went nowhere, Lindsay filed a lawsuit without the assistance of an attorney, demanding to be housed in a women’s facility and to be treated as a woman. She later retained TLC and the Denver-based civil rights firm, Greisen & King, LLP to represent her in her case. Since filing her lawsuit, the CDOC has repeatedly failed to keep her safe, and Lindsay has survived multiple rapes, including one that occurred just hours after a federal District Court judge denied an emergency motion to have her moved to a safer facility.

Lindsay reached a settlement agreement with the state in July 2018. In addition to money damages, the agreement enabled Lindsay to serve out the remainder of her sentence in the men’s prison where she felt the most safe and respected. Despite this positive step, TLC and King & Greisen continue to work with transgender women in CDOC’s men’s prisons to ensure changes in policy that will bring about more safety, dignity, and respect. While Lindsay is already an accomplished jailhouse lawyer, she hopes to pursue law school after her release from prison in September 2019.

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