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Court Strikes Down Ban on Care for Transgendered Prisoners

By Brandon Sample

On March 31, 2010, Chief U.S. District Judge C.N. Clevert, Jr. struck down Wis. Stat. § 302.386(5m) as unconstitutional. The law, Clevert held, denied transgendered prisoners the right to individualized treatment for Gender Identity Disorder (GID) in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.

In 2005, Wisconsin passed Wis. Stat. § 302.286(5m). Under the law, Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) physicians were barred from prescribing hormone therapy or sex reassignment surgery for transgendered people in state custody.

The ACLU and Lambda Legal sued the DOC arguing that the law denied transgendered Wisconsin prisoners equal protection and amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

Agreeing with the prisoners, Judge Clevert, Jr. held that the statute violated the Eighth Amendment because it “results in the denial of hormone therapy without regard for the individual medical needs of inmates and the medical needs of inmates and the medical judgment of their health care providers.”

Further, the court held that the law violated the plaintiffs’ right to equal protection “because there is no rational basis for treating the plaintiffs differently than similarly situated inmates.”

“This decision recognizes that many inmates have a serious medical condition that requires individualized medical treatment. The court’s ruling doesn’t require inmates to receive hormones or surgery for sex reassignment, it simply means that doctors are the ones who make the decisions about treatment,” said John Knight of the ACLU. “The Court’s decision is just common sense.”

The plaintiffs were represented by John Knight of the ACLU, and Larry Dupuis and Dru Levasseur of the Transgender Rights project of Lambda Legal. See: Fields v. Smith, No. 06-C-112 (E.D. Wis. 2010).

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Related legal case

Fields v. Smith