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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 7, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 40
Federal Bureau of Prisons makes major change in Transgender medical policy
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Federal Bureau of Prisons makes major change in Transgender medical policy

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

A settlement was announced Sept. 30 in the case of Vanessa Adams, a Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) inmate at FMC Butner in North Carolina, who has gender identity disorder (GID). Adams sued BOP to receive appropriate treatment for her GID.

Adams' challenge to BOP's treatment of Transgender prisoners has resulted in BOP ending its so-called 'freeze-frame' policy, in which treatment for any person with GID is kept frozen at the level provided at the time he or she entered the federal prison system. In Adams' case, this meant that because she had not received treatment for GID before being incarcerated, BOP refused to provide her with medically necessary care even though its own doctors diagnosed her with GID, told her about treatments available for GID, and knew about the seriousness of her medical condition.

'We applaud the BOP for getting rid of an unfair policy that has denied medically necessary care to many people. We hope that other state and county prison systems will follow BOP's lead and eliminate discriminatory policies that are based on bias rather than medical need,' said Jody Marksamer, a staff attorney with the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

The change in policy was promulgated via two memoranda, dated May 31, 2011, and June 15, 2010, from BOP's medical director to all BOP chief executive officers.

The May memorandum ends:

'In summary, inmates in the custody of the Bureau with a possible diagnosis of GID will receive a current individualized assessment and evaluation. Treatment options will not be precluded solely due to level of services received, or lack of services, prior to incarceration.'

The memo also states that 'current, accepted standards of care will be used as a reference for developing the treatment plan.'

The memos have been distributed to all individuals in the prison system who have been diagnosed with GID, as well as to the medical staff treating these prisoners.

When the suit was filed on Feb. 24, 2009, Adams was at a federal prison in Florida. There she was being denied medically necessary hormone therapy and prevented from otherwise expressing a female gender identity because she had not received this treatment prior to her incarceration. In a June 7, 2010, ruling, Federal District Court Judge Joseph L. Tauro rejected BOP's argument that Adams' claim was moot because BOP had finally started Adams on hormone therapy.

Citing BOP's consistently callous conduct toward Adams, the fact that BOP could stop her treatment at any time, and that BOP did not disavow its policy, Judge Tauro sent the case to mediation. With the Sept. 30 settlement, the parties jointly agreed to end the case.

Cassandra Capobianco of Florida Institutional Legal Services said, 'It is critical not only for Vanessa's health and safety but for the good of other prisoners that BOP's policy has been changed.'

'BOP's freeze-frame policy trapped Transgender prisoners in despair, leading often to depression, suicide attempts, and in many cases, serious self-harm, as was the case with Vanessa,' said Jennifer L. Levi, director of the Transgender Rights Project of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD).

In addition to GLAD, Adams was represented by Florida Institutional Legal Services (FILS), the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), Bingham McCutchen LLP, and Allyson Kurker.

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