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Georgia Takes First Step Toward Reforming Trans Prison Policies

Georgia Takes First Step Toward Reforming Trans Prison Policies

Prison officials in Georgia have reportedly taken swift action to address the concerns of transgender inmates, following criticism by federal prosecutors in the case of a transgender prisoner.

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 to the Associated Press.

The new policy went into effect last week, after the U.S. Department of Justice filed a brief declaring that the Georgia Department of Corrections must treat an inmate's gender identity condition the same as they would treat any other medical or mental health condition, according to the AP.

The Justice Department brief was filed to support a lawsuit by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of Ashley Diamond, a transgender woman. Diamond's suit accuses prison officials of not providing adequate treatment for her gender dysphoria.

Diamond, 36, has identified as female since she was a child and began hormone therapy when she was 17, the lawsuit says. She was presenting and living her life as a woman when she was placed in a men's prison in Georgia following a conviction for theft.

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.

According to the lawsuit, previous Georgia DOC policy stated that only inmates who identified as transgender during their initial intake screenings were eligible for treatment for gender dysphoria, the clinical diagnosis for the distress experienced by those with a severe mismatch between their internal gender identity and the sex they were assigned at birth. Department personnel who did those screenings often weren't familiar with the condition, the lawsuit contends. 

Although medical personnel eventually evaluated Diamond 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.

The new policy says inmates with a diagnosis of possible gender dysphoria will be evaluated by qualified medical and mental health professionals — and that assessment will include consideration 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.

According to the AP, the new policy makes clear that each inmate who may have gender dysphoria "will receive a current individualized assessment and evaluation."

In a substantial shift from long-standing policy, the revisions also specify that an inmate will not be denied treatment, even if he or she was not receiving a comparable level of treatment — or any clinical treatment — before entering the Georgia DOC system. 

The previous policy, which only allowed inmates the level of treatment they received before imprisonment — and permitted no treatment for those who weren't initially classified as suffering from gender dysphoria — are unconstitutional, the Justice Department said in its brief. Such policies violate the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

The SPLC is pleased the department has withdrawn that old policy, deputy legal director David Dinielli told the AP 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.

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