Gay, bisexual and transgender prisoners put in “Alternative Lifestyle” isolation tank

A group of gay, bisexual and transgender prisoners who were put in an “Alternative Lifestyle” isolation tank, in some cases for 23 hours a day, have reached a proposed settlement in court.

The group were systematically discriminated against and mistreated for their sexuality and gender identity while incarcerated at a Southern California jail.

Dan McKibben, a former sheriff’s officer, said he identified himself as gay during his processing at the West Valley Detention Center.

After entering the jail McKibben says he was immediately sent to the so-called “Alternative Lifestyle Tank,” a two block 16-cell housing section, where he was kept in his cell on average nearly 23 hours a day.

McKibben’s length of time locked up is in contrast to other non-LGBT inmates who are usually allowed out of their cells, according to prior reporting in 2014 by Four Two Nine.

Imprisoned for two months in 2014 on a probation violation, McKibben filed a federal class action in 2014 along with 15 other gay, bisexual and transgender inmates, but died in 2016.

Fellow inmate Lynn Price, who identifies as a transgender woman, was also incarcerated at the West Valley prison and says she too, was put in the tank for all but one or two hours per day.

“It felt so lonely and humiliating back then, seeing everyone else out and allowed to eat together, talk with each other,” Price said, as reported by Courthouse News Service.

A lawsuit filed against the prison said the tank held 600 people between 2012 and 2018, and said enforcement officers called plaintiffs derogatory names and denied them opportunities for jail work, education, drug rehabilitation and religious programmes.

The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California and law firm Kaye, McLane, Bednarski & Litt, representing the plaintiffs, said in a statement Wednesday that they will seek approval of the settlement at a hearing Friday morning before U.S District Judge Jesus G. Bernal.

San Bernardino County, Sheriff John McMahon and Sheriff’s Department personnel Greg Garland, Jeff Rose, James Mahan and Armando Castillo were named defendants in the lawsuit.

As part of the proposed settlement, defendants will pay damages of $950,000 and $1.1 million in attorney’s fees, as reported.


A man staring out of a prison. (Creative Commons)

Attorneys for McMahon and other defendants did not immediately respond to a request for comment by the Courthouse News Service.

The proposed settlement would also enforce open work and educational programs, mandate staff training and establish a policy of zero tolerance for harassment of gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people within the prison.

The terms of the settlement also state that the tank will be renamed the ‘Gay, Biseuxal, Transgender and Intersex Unit’, which will operate as a facility for medical care, privacy protections and housing placements for transgender people.

It will have the mandate that “incarcerated people are to be free from sexual abuse and harassment,” according to the statement.

“Over the past 20-plus years of litigation against jails, it has been our experience that jail culture often undermines recognition of inmates’ humanity,” said attorney David S. McLane of Kaye, McLane, Bednarski & Litt.

“This culture had led to a complete disregard for inmates’ fundamental constitutional right to equal treatment.”

McLane said the county can set the “national example” of how jails can respect people’s identities and value their dignity without compromising safety.