More than a dozen correctional employees in Illinois are under investigation after they were accused of mocking transgender inmates in private Facebook groups, state officials said.
Earlier this week, a review by Injustice Watch, a nonprofit journalism organization, found that at least 25 employees with the Illinois Department of Corrections -- including prison guards, a counselor and a parole officer -- have participated in online conversations that included degrading comments or disclosed medical information about transgender inmates in two private Facebook groups. The posts included references to transgender women as "it" and "he."
"Know matter way you look at it, it's a freak'n male inmate," a correctional officer commented on a post of a news story about an incarcerated transgender woman who had been suing several prison employees for cruel treatment and sexual assault.
"Transgender's are a f***** joke in my view," he added.
The private Facebook groups, "Behind the Walls - Illinois Dep't of Corrections" and "Behind the Walls ~ Illinois Department of Corrections," have each more than 4,000 members.
A spokeswoman with the department of corrections confirmed Thursday that a number of staff members are undergoing the disciplinary review process. Under the department's policies, employees who violate the code of conduct may face disciplinary action and some violations could lead to their firing.
The department is also working on a new social media policy, the spokeswoman said.
CNN has attempted to reach the officers named in Injustice Watch's report.
Rob Jeffreys, acting director of the Illinois Department of Corrections, said his agency recently implemented mandatory training on implicit bias and transgender care for the agency's employees.
"The Illinois Department of Corrections is firmly dedicated to fostering a culture of tolerance, inclusion, and respect in our correctional facilities. We recently implemented required staff training that addresses implicit bias and transgender care. Employees who express bigotry or hatred toward incarcerated individuals or other staff are subject to disciplinary action," Jeffreys said in a statement.
Anders Lindall, a spokesman for the union representing the corrections officers, said the group does not condone or tolerate bigotry, but every member "is entitled to fair representation and due process, which it's our duty to ensure."
"We believe the union's strength is in our diversity, and inclusion is a foundational value that we will not compromise," Lindall said.
Corrections officers are facing more allegations
Some of the offensive comments were made in response to news stories about Strawberry Hampton, a transgender woman who is suing several prison guards and prison employees.
In her lawsuit, Hampton alleges she was sexually and physically abused by correctional officers at the Pinckneyville Correctional Center in Pinckneyville and the Menard Correctional Center in Randolph County due to her gender identity and as retaliation for complaints against officers.
Vanessa Del Valle, an attorney representing Hampton, said the Facebook posts show what transgender women have to deal with on a "daily basis."
"It's horrid that these people that hold these views are responsible for providing the basic needs and safety for transwomen in their custody," Del Valle said.
Hampton has since been released from prison, and her case remains pending in federal court, Del Valle said.
The corrections department is also involved in other lawsuits involving transgender inmates. One of those lawsuits was brought by six transgender women who say they did not receive adequate medical care to align their body with their gender.
John Knight, the director of the ACLU of Illinois' LGBTQ Rights Project, condemned the Facebook comments and described them as "deeply disturbing."
"There is a crying need for a dramatic culture change in the IDOC to recognize the basic needs and human dignity of transgender persons in state custody. That change cannot come quickly enough," he said.
The ACLU of Illinois, along with the Uptown People's Law Center, are representing several transgender inmates in the pending class-action suit and other lawsuits.