Federal court rules that it is ‘cruel & unusual punishment’ to deny trans inmates surgery

Adree Edmo
Photo: Adree Edmo/via NCLR

A federal appeals court ruled that prisons are responsible for providing gender affirmation health care to a transgender inmate.

The case involves Adree Edmo, who pled guilty to sexually assaulting a minor in 2012. She said that she was a girl since she was five or six, but didn’t accept herself fully until she was an adult.

In prison, though, she was diagnosed with gender dysphoria. She corrected the gender marker on her birth certificate, changed her name, and has been living as a woman in prison.

But the Idaho Department of Corrections and Corizon, Inc., the private contractor that provides health care in Idaho prisons, refused to allow her access to gender affirmation surgery, even though she had attempted to castrate herself and was suffering from gender dysphoria.

So she sued the state and Corizon in federal court.

Related: Trump strips transgender prisoners of protections against rape & abuse

She won her case in 2017 but the state appealed.

Now the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in her favor, saying that the Eighth Amendment – which bans cruel and unusual punishment – requires the state to pay for gender affirmation care.

The appeals court has already ruled that the Eighth Amendment requires prisons to provide medical care for inmates, so they were applying that reasoning to gender affirmation surgery.

“I am relieved and grateful the court recognized my right to necessary medical treatment, and that I will get the surgery I need,” Edmo said in a statement. “I hope my case helps the State of Idaho understand that they can’t deny medical care to transgender people.”

“One of the foundational principles of our Constitution is that the State cannot subject people in its custody to cruel and unusual punishment, including by failing to treat serious medical conditions,” said Amy Whelan, Senior Staff Attorney for the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “This ruling is in line not only with long-standing medical evidence, but also with legal rulings across the country that it is dangerous and unconstitutional to deny transgender people access to medically necessary care in prison.”

Idaho Governor Brad Little (R) said that the ruling was “extremely disappointing” and that the state would try to appeal to the Supreme Court.

“The hardworking taxpayers of Idaho should not be forced to pay for a convicted sex offender’s gender reassignment surgery when it is contrary to the medical opinions of the treating physician and multiple mental health professionals,” he said in a statement, even though the court rejected the medical opinions provided by the state that said that gender confirmation surgery was not medically necessary.

But if the ruling stands, then Edmo will be the first transgender inmate to get gender affirmation surgery through a court order. Western states in the jurisdiction of the 9th Circuit Court will have to update their policies to conform to the ruling, and other circuit courts may follow.

After the surgery, she will be transferred to a women’s facility, according to state policy.

Edmo’s sentence will end in 2021. She is not eligible for parole.

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