Surgery While in Prison Now an Option for Transgender Inmates

Gender reassignment surgery, along with hormones and specialized mental health counseling is now available to transgender inmates who did not begin treatment prior to entering federal custody, The Associated Press reports.

The decision is based on new rules adopted by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons as part of a court settlement for inmate Vanessa Adams, formerly Nicholas Adams, who was diagnosed with gender identity disorder in 2005, and, after being denied treatment, tried to castrate herself with a razor and attempted to and ultimately succeeded in amputating her penis.

A May 31 memo issued to wardens at the nation's 116 federal prisons and made public by gay rights groups states: "current, accepted standards of care" will be applied to inmates who believe they are the wrong gender.

Under the bureau's previous policy, issued in 2005, only federal inmates with a preexisting diagnosis were eligible for transgender-related care, which was limited to treatments that would maintain them "only at the level of change which existed when they were incarcerated."

"The [new] treatment plan may include elements or services that were, or were not, provided prior to incarceration, including, but not limited to: those elements of real life experience consistent with the prison environment, hormone therapy and counseling," the memo from bureau medical director Newton Kendig states.

While the policy memo does not mention surgical intervention, National Center for Lesbian Rights Legal Director Shannon Minter told AP that the agreement would permit surgery as a treatment option if prison doctors agree it is necessary for individual inmates. The agreement also calls for transgender inmates to be notified of the new policies and for prison doctors to be trained to identify and treat gender identity disorders. Jennifer Levi, director of the Transgender Rights Project at Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, told AP, "This should have a very significant effect on the lives of trans inmates. It means people will be receiving appropriate medical care." According to Bureau spokesman Ed Ross, there are currently 48 federal inmates who have been diagnosed with gender identity disorders, AP reports.
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