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September 30, 2011

Federal Bureau of Prisons Makes Major Change in Transgender Medical Policy

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A settlement was announced today 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). Ms. Adams sued BOP in order to receive appropriate treatment for her GID.

Ms. Adam’s 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 Ms. 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.

“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, Transgender Rights Project Director for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD). 

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’s chief executive officers.  The May 2011 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 February 24, 2009, Ms. 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 Ms. Adams’ claim was moot because BOP had finally started Ms. Adams on hormone therapy.

Citing BOP’s consistently callous conduct toward Ms. 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 today’s 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.”

“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 at the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

In addition to GLAD, Ms 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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Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders is New England's leading legal organization dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation, HIV status, and gender identity and expression.