In 1986 she was arrested for passing bad checks. Against her counsel’s advice, she did not impersonate a man for the trial, and was found guilty of credit-card fraud and Judge Joseph F. Murphy Jr. gave her an 18-year sentence in a federal prison, to be followed by a 20-year sentence in a state prison for writing bad checks.
She was first sent to the men’s maximum-security penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, which sensibly rejected her. After several transfers she ended up at USP Terre Haute, Indiana. She has had no hormones after that, and within a week she had been raped at knife-point.
Acting without a lawyer, Farmer filed a complaint in the US District Court against the Federal Bureau of Prisons, its regional director and several wardens and administrators who had put her in USP Terre Haute. The case was dismissed by U.S. district judge, John C. Shabaz, a justice with a history of conservative rulings. Her appeal to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeal was also dismissed, again by Shabaz.
Still acting alone, Farmer appealed to the US Supreme Court. In 1994, the American Civil Liberties Union was appointed to represent her, and Stop Prison Rape submitted an amicus brief. SCOTUS ruled unanimously that officials have a responsibility to safeguard prisoners from violence. They must not exhibit 'deliberate indifference". However there were caveats. Green explains:
"The decision said that, for prison officials to be at fault, they must have had subjective knowledge, not objective, that the transsexual prisoner would be assaulted. In other words the prison officials must have known it would happen. An objective test, that is that any reasonable prison official would surmise that assault would result when you place a male transsexual in a male prison, was not sufficient."The case was returned to the district court, and Farmer got Shabaz again who was able to use to caveats to again dismiss the case.
Human Rights Watch wrote in 2001:
"The legal rules that the courts have developed relating to prisoner-on-prisoner sexual abuse create perverse incentives for authorities to ignore the problem".In 1996, the US Government passed the Prison Litigation Reform Act to make it further difficult for other prisoners to sue as Farmer had done by requiring prisoners to exhaust all administrative remedies before filing a claim (even if this means seeking redress from the abuser), and to demonstrate that they experienced physical harm prior to filing. It also limited attorney fees for representing prisoners, and barred prisoners from seeking damages for sexual harassment, invasions of privacy such as strip searching, and inappropriate sexual touching.
In 2005, Farmer, having completed her federal sentence, again appeared before Judge Joseph F. Murphy Jr. who agreed to release her on probation as she was dying of AIDS.
The next year Farmer was charged five times with mail fraud and twice with aggravated identity theft, and then with presenting false information for entry on a death certificate to avoid other charges. By this time he had returned to living as a man. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 18 months.
- Richard Green. "American Law Does/Does Not Respond to the Transsexual". Gendys Conference, 1994. www.gender.org.uk/conf/1994/green.htm.
- Richard Linnett. “Why Her Warden Calls the Lady Mister”. Hustler Magazine. May 1999. Online at: www.geocities.ws/karenspecial/tgprison.html.
- Alex Coolman, Lamar Glover & Kara Gotsch. Still in Danger: The Ongoing Threat of Sexual Violence against Transgender Prisoners. Los Angeles: ACLU, 2005. www.justdetention.org/pdf/stillindanger.pdf.
- Jennifer McMenamin. "Woman is arrested in identity scheme: She is accused of trying to falsify death certificate to avoid prosecution". Baltimore Sun, September 29, 2006. http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2006-09-29/news/0609290025_1_farmer-baltimore-county-death-certificate.
- "Identity Thief Convicted in Attempt to Fake Own Death". Southern Maryland, December 18, 2006. http://somd.com/news/headlines/2006/5030.shtml.
- “Prison Litigation Reform Act”. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prison_Litigation_Reform_Act
- “Farmer v. Brennan”. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deidre_Farmer