Lynn Benton, transgender man, locked up in woman's facility

Lynn Benton sits in court Friday, Oct. 21, 2016. A jury found him guilty on all counts in the May 2011 death of his wife Debbie Higbee. (KATU Photo)

WILSONVILLE, Ore. -- It's safe to say 2010 was an eventful year for Lynn Benton. It's the year he transitioned from woman to man, legally changed his name, and married his wife.

But just six years later, Benton was convicted in the murder of that woman and recently arrived at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, the state's only women's prison, to serve his sentence.

Facility spokeswoman Vicki Reynolds says all new inmates- male and female- come here for initial processing before they are reassigned. But Benton is still here.

"I think it raises a bunch of questions about how Mr. Benton's placement was decided," said Mat Dos Santos, the Legal Director for the ACLU.

Dos Santos doesn't necessarily see Benton's placement in the facilitiy's mental health unit as a problem. He hopes a review committee that assesses which inmates go to which facilities took into account Benton's wishes, but he also says this could be the safest place for him to serve his sentence based on a number of factors.

"This is a former law enforcement officer. That this person is transgender. That he may have very specific mental health and medical needs that may be much more easy to provide at a facility like Coffee Creek," Dos Santos said.

Dos Santos says Coffee Creek's Wilsonville location, close to Portland and Salem, means Benton has easier access to some of the best medical and mental health professionals in the state. He adds Benton may be safer housed with women as opposed to men.

But he says the case helps shine a spotlight on the needs of transgender inmates, and says the Department of Corrections must act more quickly to accommodate them.

"It is absolutely a fundamental right that all of us are entitled to to be treated appropriately while in prison and the U.S. Supreme Court has decided that includes appropriate medical care," Dos Santos said.

It's unclear if Benton is upset with his assignment. Reynolds couldn't say if he appealed the decision to place him at the female facility. Reynolds says there are usually about 400 men at the facility as they await processing, which usually takes 30-35 days. She says there are about six transgender inmates there currently.

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