Target: Colette Peters, Director of the Oregon Department of Corrections
Goal: Urge the state’s prison system to house and provide medical care for transgender inmates based on their stated gender identities
Experts agree that the law requires prisons to provide inmates with necessary medical and psychological care. Yet despite the fact that gender dysphoria is a widely-recognized physical and psychological condition, the Oregon Department of Corrections (DOC) continues to deny care to transgender inmates as recommended by their doctors. In fact it refuses to treat gender dysphoria at all.
At least 10 individuals within Oregon’s prison system identify as the opposite gender. While incarcerated they are denied hormone treatments and may punished for refusing to conform to gender norms in conflict with their experience and sense of identity. Numerous federal court rulings hold it necessary to provide treatment if transgender inmates seek it. Denial of treatment can be extremely traumatic, causing lasting harm and increasing their risk of depression, suicide and self-harm.
While the Oregon DOC has committed to making some reforms, their own records reveal that any changes may be largely superficial. Corrections staff do need better education about transgender people, but continuing to deny medically necessary treatment violates these inmates’ right to freedom from cruel and unusual punishment. Demand that the Oregon prison system recognize and treat gender dysphoria in inmates.
Dear Ms. Peters,
I am disappointed and disturbed to know that the state of Oregon continues to ignore the medical and psychological needs of transgender inmates. Eight other states have issued federal rulings calling on prisons to provide treatment for gender dysphoria if the inmate seeks it. Denial of treatment, and forcing people to live as a gender that differs from their identity, increases the risk of suicide and self-mutilation. It amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.
I can imagine it must be incredibly challenging to oversee a corrections system. Addressing the medical and psychological needs of transgender inmates–a comparatively small number of people–is indeed an additional challenge. But beyond it being your constitutionally-mandated responsibility, to refuse this care ignores the fact that gender dysphoria is a legitimate condition which often requires treatment.
While your agency is in the process of creating its first-ever formal policies for working with transgender inmates, the proposed changes are not enough. They fail to meet the minimum standards for care outlined by the World Health Organization and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. I urge you to uphold your duty to the constitution and these human rights standards: fully recognize and treat transgender inmates’ physical and psychological needs.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Tim Evanson via Flickr