Georgia prison officials change transgender inmate policy

AP News
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Posted: Apr 10, 2015 2:14 PM

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia prison officials are changing how they treat inmates with gender identity conditions, just days after the U.S. Justice Department weighed in on a lawsuit filed by a transgender prisoner.

The new policy took effect Tuesday after the Justice Department said in a court filing April 3 that prison officials must treat an inmate's gender identity condition just as they would treat any other medical or mental health condition.

The Justice Department brief was filed in the case of a lawsuit filed in February by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of Ashley Diamond, a transgender woman. The lawsuit says prison officials have failed to provide adequate treatment for Diamond's gender dysphoria, a condition that causes a person to experience extreme distress because of a disconnect between birth sex and gender identity.

The new Georgia Department of Corrections policy says inmates with a possible gender dysphoria diagnosis will be evaluated by qualified medical and mental health professionals, and that will include an assessment of the inmate's treatment and experiences before entering prison.

If an inmate is diagnosed with gender dysphoria, a treatment plan will be developed to address the patient's physical and mental health. The plan will take into account prior treatment but will also be reviewed and updated as necessary.

The new policy makes clear that each inmate with a possible gender dysphoria diagnosis "will receive a current individualized assessment and evaluation." It also specifically says a patient won't be denied treatment if he or she wasn't receiving a comparable level of treatment or wasn't receiving any treatment previously.

The Georgia Department of Corrections decided to update its policy to bring it more in line with federal Bureau of Prisons policy, spokeswoman Gwendolyn Hogan said in an email.

The SPLC is pleased the department has withdrawn its old policy, deputy legal director David Dinielli said in an emailed statement.

"We currently are reviewing the new policy to make certain that it complies with constitutional requirements and that it will ensure improved care for Ashley Diamond and others in her circumstances, who are among the most vulnerable and targeted for abuse and mistreatment in our prison systems," he said.

Diamond, who's 36, has identified as female since she was a child and began hormone therapy when she was 17, the lawsuit says. That gave her full breasts, a feminine shape, softer skin and a feminine appearance.

The lawsuit took issue with the fact that, under the old policy, only inmates identified as transgender during their initial intake screenings were eligible for gender dysphoria treatment under Georgia Department of Corrections policy. The lawsuit said the personnel who did those screenings often weren't familiar with the condition. Despite having noticeable feminine physical characteristics and telling department staff she was transgender and receiving hormone therapy, Diamond was not evaluated for gender dysphoria. She wasn't referred for treatment, and her hormone therapy was halted, the lawsuit says.

Although medical personnel subsequently evaluated her and determined she had gender dysphoria and that hormone therapy and female gender expression were medically necessary, department officials refused to authorize the treatment, the lawsuit says.

So-called freeze-frame policies, that only allow inmates the level of treatment that they received before imprisonment and that allow no treatment for those who weren't initially classified as suffering from gender dysphoria, are unconstitutional, the Justice Department brief says. Such policies violate the Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.