Federal Judge Orders Wisconsin to Provide Transition Care to Trans Inmate

Prison.jpg

The case could provide a groundbreaking precedent to other inmates in need of gender-affirming care.

Level: Advanced

Originally published on 19 December 2020

A federal court has ordered the state of Wisconsin to stop preventing a transgender woman from getting medical treatment from the prison where she is being held.

Nicole Campbell began her sentence 13 years ago and is currently held at Racine Correctional Institute for men in Sturtevant, a suburb of Milwaukee. Despite having a diagnosis of gender dysphoria prior to her incarceration, prison officials only allowed her to have access to some forms of gender-affirming care. The 49-year-old was allowed to get hormone treatments and counselling, but she was prevented from getting confirmation surgery after years of requests.

Eventually, Campbell appealed the refusal. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections initially said that Campbell should not be allowed to get the surgery because she was not living as a woman “in real life,” even though that is impossible because she is confined to an all-male prison.

Now a district judge has decided that denying Campbell treatment is unconstitutional. In his decision, Judge James Peterson of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin mentioned the severity of her gender dysphoria and argued that forcing her to endure that level of suffering amounts to cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment.

“Campbell continues to suffer from gender dysphoria, which causes her anguish and puts her at risk of self-harm or suicide,” he wrote in his ruling. “Defendants have identified no practical impediment to providing sex reassignment surgery to Campbell. The surgery is no more expensive or difficult than other treatment that the DOC routinely provides.”

Campbell will not be eligible for certain requests, including breast augmentation, voice therapy, and electrolysis, as her case did not establish that those treatments were necessary for her condition. Other inmates seeking similar treatments may be able to prove otherwise, as Peterson hinted in his ruling.

“Some members of the public are outraged at any effort to improve the health and well being of inmates,” the judge said. “But the true public interest lies in alleviating needless suffering by those who are dependent on the government for their care.”

Campbell’s surgery may take a considerably long time, as there is only one surgeon in the entire state of Wisconsin who is qualified and able to do the operation.

This is a particularly important ruling because it further establishes the rights of trans people to receive gender-affirming care in prison settings.

Adapted from them

New vocabulary:

  • groundbreaking – very new, original and important

  • precedent – a decision about a legal case that makes it likely that other similar cases will be decided in the same way

  • gender-affirming care – medical health care that allows someone to live authentically in their gender

  • (being) held – (being) kept in one place, without being able to leave (in this case prison)

  • sentence – a punishment given by a judge in court

  • suburb – an area on the edge of a large town or city

  • gender dysphoria – the unhappy feeling a person has due to a mismatch between their gender identity and the sex they were assigned at birth

  • incarceration – imprisonment (being sent to prison)

  • confirmation surgery – different types of surgical procedures that a transgender person has to obtain the physical characteristics that match their gender identity

  • appealed – took the case to a higher court for review

  • confined – imprisoned/detained/kept in one place

  • severity – seriousness

  • endure – suffer something difficult

  • amounts to – is the same as

  • anguish – distress/hurt/misery

  • impediment – barrier/obstacle/difficulty

  • routinely – regularly

  • considerably – very

  • establishes – starts something that will last a long time

 

Questions:

Why do you think this ruling is significant?

What impact could this ruling have on other trans inmates?

How could the living conditions and the emotional well-being of inmates be improved?