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Prisoner held in segregation due to transgender status requests probation

Kacie Dingus Breeding • Jan 16, 2008 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — A transgender individual has asked prosecutors to grant her probation after she’s spent about a month and a half in segregation at the Sullivan County Detention Center.

At the time of Alisha Hensley’s arrest on Sept. 20, Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office Detective Sgt. Darrel Hunt said her driver’s license records indicated she is a female, while Tennessee Department of Corrections records say she’s a man, according to an affidavit filed Oct. 9. At that time, it was not known whether Hensley, 37 — formerly Jeffrey A. Hensley — had undergone gender reassignment surgery.

Sullivan County Detention Center Lt. Brian Dillard said Wednesday that privacy laws prohibit him from commenting on Hensley’s gender status. However, placing Hensley in segregation has allowed jail officials to avoid the issue.

Hensley, however, is not pleased with the situation, according to court records.

She said in a letter to Assistant District Attorney Teresa Nelson on Jan. 2 that she’d spent 44 days in “segregated lockdown” due to her “lifestyle of choice” and “begged” to be granted probation for theft charges alleging she stole a Sullivan County woman’s purse and a man’s vehicle on Sept. 16.

“I was in prison yes; and really do not wish to go back,” Hensley said of a previous incarceration in Knox County on convictions she says the judge eventually agreed to give her probation for.

Following receipt of the letter, Judge Robert Montgomery reset her Jan. 4 arraignment date to Jan. 25. Meanwhile, Hensley’s attorney filed a motion Jan. 10 to reduce Hensley’s $10,000 bond to an amount equal to the severity of her crimes.

Dillard said it’s often necessary to place certain individuals in segregation, either for their own protection or to maintain the security of the jail. Under these circumstances, segregation is not intended as a disciplinary action, Dillard said.

Individuals can be placed in segregation for a variety of reasons, he added. Inmates can be segregated for medical reasons, including but not limited to protecting inmates from transferable diseases, he said. Other reasons for segregation include inmates testifying against other inmates, and inmates at risk of being harmed by other inmates if housed in the general population.

But it’s certainly not a punishment, Dillard said. When segregation is intended as a disciplinary action, inmates do not have access to a television and are not granted phone privileges.

Inmates segregated for non-disciplinary reasons maintain these privileges.

Inmates throughout the jail are divided in a variety of ways whenever possible in order to ensure the safety of all, according to Dillard. Men are always housed apart from the women. Felony offenders are separated from misdemeanor violators. Inmates convicted of aggravated felonies are also set apart from other offenders. Sex offenders are isolated from the general jail population as well.

A Sullivan County bailiff on Wednesday recalled the first time he searched a transgender individual at the courthouse many years ago. At that time, male officers couldn’t search women and vice versa, he said. He recalled searching the individual from the waist down, while a female officer was called upon to search the person from the waist up.

Earlier article:

Transgender individual accused of stealing vehicle, purse in Sullivan

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