Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Federal Court Allows Transgender Inmate’s Lawsuit over Medical Treatment to Go Forward

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Above: Trailer for the 2006 Outcast Films documentary “Cruel and Unusual

A U.S. district court judge in Massachusetts has denied the government’s motion to dismiss a transgender inmate’s lawsuit alleging she was denied appropriate treatment for Gender Identity Disorder (GID). The case will now proceed towards trial. The plaintiff, Vanessa Adams, is a federal inmate who was diagnosed with GID in 2005, and thereafter made repeated requests to the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) that she be provided with treatment, including psychological treatment and hormone therapy. After her requests were denied, she attempted suicide several times and eventually removed her own genitals. She is being represented by three nonprofit legal organizations — the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Florida Institutional Legal Services, and Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders — along with the national law firm Bingham McCutchen. You can read more about the case and download the plaintiff’s complaint here. The decision is available as a PDF here.

The specific policy Adams challenges is the BOP’s so-called “freeze-frame” policy. Under this policy, the BOP will provide treatment for inmates with GID but only at the level they were receiving prior to their incarceration. That means inmates like Adams, who was only diagnosed after she got to prison, are ineligible for any treatment. (See BOP Program Statement BOP P6031.01(30) — PDF p. 43.) At the motion-to-dismiss stage, the legal issues were mootness and venue. Notably, the judge denied the government’s argument that because the BOP is now providing Adams with hormone therapy, the case is moot: “If this court were to dismiss Plaintiff’s claims at this juncture, based on nothing more than Defendants voluntary cessation of the challenged conduct, without even so much as an assurance from Defendants that the challenged conduct will not recur, it would ‘leave the defendant[s] . . . free to return to [their] old ways’” (PDF p. 10).

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