NC prison officials must transfer transgender woman to a women’s prison, judge rules

Ashlee Inscoe, a transgender woman who was born intersex, smiles and waves at friends and supporters at the Wake County Courthouse on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023, after a judge ruled that she must be transferred to a women’s prison.

After years of fighting to be moved to a women’s prison, Ashlee Inscoe won a major victory Tuesday as a judge ruled that state prison officials could no longer house her among men, and must transfer her within 14 days.

Inscoe, a transgender woman who was born intersex, first asked to be moved to a women’s prison more than three years ago, citing regular harassment she said she was receiving that made her feel unsafe. In September 2021, Inscoe took prison officials to court, filing a lawsuit seeking an order compelling her transfer to a women’s prison.

That ruling was handed down Tuesday by Wake County Superior Court Judge A. Graham Shirley, who said at the end of a more than three-hour-long hearing, during which multiple prison officials testified that they didn’t believe there was any reason for Inscoe to be moved to a women’s prison, that state law made it clear that an individual recognized in state records as a woman must be housed with other women inmates.

“This is a straight, statutory interpretation,” Shirley said. “This is not a political statement, it’s not a policy statement.”

The decision was emotional for Inscoe, 42, who smiled and grew teary as she waved to friends and activists who came to the hearing to show their support, as she was escorted out of the courtroom.

Elizabeth Simpson, an attorney at Emancipate NC who has been working with Inscoe on her case for more than two years, said the ruling is a huge relief considering the stress and uncertainty Inscoe has dealt with trying to advocate for herself through the prison system’s grievance process, and ultimately, through the courts.

For much of her adult life, Inscoe has been in and out of prison on a variety of charges including breaking and entering, hit and run, larceny, speeding to elude arrest, habitual felon, and possession of a firearm by a felon.

She’s also a registered sex offender for a 2000 conviction of indecent liberties with a 13-year-old, when she was 18.

Prison officials who testified on Tuesday referred to that conviction to argue that Inscoe shouldn’t be housed with other women, but Inscoe’s attorneys said that bringing up a charge from more than two decades ago was prejudicial and irrelevant.

Inscoe is currently incarcerated at Nash Correctional Institution in Nashville, about 45 miles east of Raleigh. Prior to February 2022, she was assigned to Avery-Mitchell Correctional Institution near Spruce Pine, about 120 miles northwest of Charlotte.

During Tuesday’s ruling, Inscoe’s attorneys said although she was assigned male at birth, and was born intersex, her birth certificate was updated by the Office of Vital Records in May to list her sex as female, following reproductive surgery she had in September 2022.

Inscoe’s repeated requests to have the procedure, an orchiectomy, to correct a painful, life-threatening situation, were denied by prison officials, until two visits to an emergency room within the span of 10 days demonstrated that the issue could no longer be ignored.

Attorneys for Inscoe and the Department of Adult Correction presented several arguments for why she should or shouldn’t be moved. Inscoe’s attorneys said that the case was relatively straightforward, and that her birth certificate proved she was female and could no longer be assigned to a men’s prison.

After handing down his ruling, Shirley agreed to grant the department 14 days to facilitate Inscoe’s move to one of the state’s prisons for women.

In 2019, prison officials moved Kanautica Zayre-Brown, a transgender woman, to a women’s prison, following months of pressure by the ACLU and other groups.

Asked if DAC plans to appeal Tuesday’s decision, and if it will begin preparations to transfer Inscoe, department spokesman John Bull said in an email that DAC was waiting for an order to be issued, and wouldn’t “speculate on future decisions.”