Prison officers allegedly demand trans woman be strip-searched as she entered prison — as a visitor

A trans woman is suing a prison after officers allegedly demanded to see her genitals before letting her visit her brother.

In a lawsuit filed earlier this week, 48-year-old China Nelson began her case against a Louisiana state prison after she claims she was barred from entering the prison for refusing to be strip-searched.

According to NBC News, Nelson was prevented from entering the maximum security prison after a full body scanner detected an “unknown object” in her trousers.

Nelson claims that she had been approved as a visitor in Louisiana State Penitentiary for over 14 years prior to the visit in 2017, and had never been asked to strip before.


“I think this was a new machine or a new screening process,” said Galen Hair, the attorney representing Nelson in the case.

The lawsuit states that after a full body scan, a prison officer asked identified something in Nelson’s underwear. Nelson then said she was trans, using her driving licence to help explain her situation to the officer.

“When an unknown guard stated that she saw ‘something’ in Ms. Nelson’s pants, Ms. Nelson acknowledged that she was born a male as indicated on her driver’s license in an effort to explain the ‘something’ the guard stated she saw,” the lawsuit states.

However, after being escorted to a men’s bathroom by two guards, Nelson refused to strip.

The officers then reportedly told Nelson that she “would have to reveal her genitalia before being permitted to leave the premises,” and then demanded to search her car.

Related: Prison bans lesbian inmates from sharing cells with their girlfriends

Nelson accepted the search of her car but once again refused to be strip-searched.

Prison officers then reportedly cancelled the entire visit, preventing Nelson’s mother and brother from visiting her other brother.

Attorney Galen Hair highlighted the rare and discriminatory nature of the incident and stated that Nelson should have been treated like any other visitor.

“Surely, the (prison) is not strip-searching every man who goes through the machine,” Hair wrote.

President of Louisiana Trans Advocates Dylan Waguespack hit out at the ways trans people are treated in prison, both in Louisiana and more generally.

Waguespack said that trans prisoners were frequently “housed incorrectly,” whilst in prison and faced abuse and harassment from officers and fellow inmates.

He described discriminatory treatment against trans people as a “widespread problem.”

Reading prison


In a letter after the incident, the deputy warden of the Louisiana prison told Nelson that she would be unable to visit the prison for six months.

The deputy warden defended the prison’s actions, writing: “Security advised you of the shakedown policy and the strip search would be based on your driver’s license.”

“Security tried to explain but you continued to interrupt.”

(Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

The deputy warden continued to say that Nelson’s visit was denied as her family members became aggressive. Nelson denies this.

According to court documents, Nelson is seeking compensation for “emotional distress” as well as asking for a court order to ban discrimination against visitors.

A Massachusetts woman made headlines earlier this month after the Massachusetts Department of Corrections refused to move her to a woman’s prison.

The unnamed woman, who has been living as female for 40 years, told her representatives that she is being forcibly strip-searched, groped and harassed after being jailed for a non-violent drugs offence in a men’s prison.