California prisoner sexual reassignment

Public attitudes towards LGBT rights have changed dramatically in just a few years. The pinnacle of this cultural shift came in the form of the Supreme Court’s July 2015 ruling that gay marriage is legal across the United States. Following such a historic verdict, other marginalized members of society felt emboldened to come forward. The transgender community, for example, is seeking equal treatment under the law, and this extends to California’s penal system. The state has now become the first in the nation to pay the costs of an inmate’s sexual reassignment surgery. Here’s what you need to know about the settlement.

The inmate

Shiloh Quine, then known as Rodney, entered a California prison in 1980, serving a life sentence on a murder charge. Quine began hormone therapy in 2009 and later filed a federal lawsuit seeking sex reassignment surgery. At first, prison officials deemed the procedure medically unnecessary, but their own medical experts undermined the case and Quine won. The settlement comes on the heels of California Gov. Jerry Brown granting parole to an inmate, Michelle-Lael Norsworthy, rather than grant her request for sex reassignment surgery.

The medical diagnoses

Despite a more visible presence in media and television, there is still much confusion among the general public about transgenderism. The reason the state’s case against Shiloh Quine imploded was because the prison’s mental health expert diagnosed her as having gender dysphoria. Quine had already made multiple suicide attempts while suffering from depression and anxiety due to this condition, and mental health professionals testified that sex-reassignment surgery would alleviate the pain. The settlement was also helped by the fact that, in 2014, the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services allowed Medicare to cover transgender services.

The state of affairs

For now, the settlement allows California to avoid a sweeping ruling mandating that the state regard sex-change operations as they do other necessary medical procedures. Having said that, many legal scholars, such as those at the conservative Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, argue that more cases like Quine’s will be heard. This is due to the fact there are some 400 transgender inmates in California’s penal system currently receiving hormone treatment. A ruling that clarifies the state’s position on sex reassignment surgery, one way or the other, seems likely to occur sooner rather than later.

What do you think? Does failing to cover sex reassignment surgery for inmates violate the 8th Amendment, which expressly bars cruel and unusual punishment? Or is California not obligated to cover the costs of prohibitively expensive medical procedures for its prison population?

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