05 May 2015

Delaware Inmate Fights For Name Change

In Delaware, as in many other US States, inmates are allowed to change their names only for religious purposes.

Now Governor Jack Markell is backing legislation that, if passed, would allow transgender prisoners to change their names.  However, there is no provision in the law for transferring detainees from facilities designated for their birth gender to those reserved for the gender by which they identify.

The, sponsored by Representative James "J.J." Johnson, comes after two courts in The First State blocked a name-change petition from  an inmate at the Baylor Women's Correctional Institution.  Lakisha Lavette Short, who is serving a 55-year sentence as a repeat offender, identifies as a man and wants to go by the name "Kai".  

Last August, Delaware State Supreme Court Judge Jane Brady,  in denying Short's petition, wrote that there is no fundamental right to change one's name.  She also wrote that the state has legitimate reasons to deny a name change because it "needs the ability to quickly and accurately identify people in prison and on parole". Moreover, she claimed, in essence, that  inmates seeking  name changes for religious reasons are "in a separate category" because of their First Amendment right to religious freedom.

American Civil Liberties Union lawyers working with Short are arguing that current Delaware law violates the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution because it allows prisoners to change their names for religious, but not any other, reasons.

An earlier version of Johnson's bill would have allowed for the transfer of prisoners from the a facility for one gender to a facility for the other.  That part was removed before the bill was introduced.

Two years ago, Governor Markell and other lawmakers approved legislation adding gender identity to the Diamond State's anti-discrimination laws.  Let's hope they can continue their good work.

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