The State Worker

Prison psychologist who says California guards locked her in with a rapist settles lawsuit

A California prison psychologist who alleged in a lawsuit that guards locked her in a cell with a convicted rapist after she spoke up on behalf of transgender inmates has accepted a $275,000 settlement and agreed to resign from the department.

Lori Jespersen, who worked for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation since 2008, signed the agreement on May 31. It forbids her from working for state prisons in the future.

Jespersen’s lawsuit centered on her work at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville. She is a married lesbian who said in her lawsuit that she noticed coworkers disparaging transgender inmates, including making jokes about the gender-identifying pronouns that some inmates used.

Jespersen’s attorney, Felica Medina, said working at the prison had become unbearable for Jespersen because she was placed in a position in which she could not work with patients.

Still, Medina said Jespersen was happy with the settlement and that the attention her case received put a spotlight on treatment of transgender inmates.

“She’s happy in the sense that her complaints were not going to be in vain, that her advocacy for herself and her community were not going to be wasted,” Medina said. “She wanted CDCR to be aware that there are people who are going to come forward.”

In one instance, the lawsuit says, prison staff “outed” a transgender inmate on social media. She alleged that correctional officers compelled transgender inmates to strip in the open, denying them privacy screens and sometimes commenting on the inmates’ appearances.

Jespersen alleged in her lawsuit that correctional officers twice locked her in confined areas with inmates — “unsupervised, alone and without access to a safety alarm” — after she filed reports advocating for transgender inmates. In one of the instances, the inmate was known as someone serving “multiple life sentences” for rape, according to the lawsuit.

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