California’s Transgender Inmates Just Won Access To Items That Match Their Identity

A federal judge in California ruled on Thursday that state prisons must allow transgender inmates greater access to commissary items that are consistent with their gender identity. The ruling stems from a settlement reached in August 2015 that mandates the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations (CDCR) to pay for a transgender inmate’s sex reassignment surgery.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Nandor Vadas said the proposed policy of allowing access to female-oriented items does not go far enough, and that transgender inmates in men’s prisons should have many of the same items provided to inmates in female facilities.

According to CBS Los Angeles, Vadas said the CDCR should give transgender inmates access to items such as nightgowns, chain and necklaces, robes, sandals, scarves, T-shirts and walking shoes. He also ruled that these inmates should have supervised access to pumice stones, emery boards and curling irons. However, Vadas listed bracelets, earrings, brushes and hair clips as items that pose significant safety and security risks and should not be given to inmates.

The case was first brought forward by 56-year-old Shiloh Quine, a transgender woman currently being held at Mule Creek State Prison, a men’s prison southeast of Sacramento. Represented by the Transgender Law Center in Oakland, CA, her case was first brought forward after she was denied sex reassignment surgery in addition to clothing and other items that were only available to inmates in women’s prisons due to California state prison policy.

Quine’s attorneys argued that these actions and policies are discriminatory and violate constitutional guarantees, including the Equal Protection Clause in the Fourteenth Amendment and the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment outlined in the Eighth Amendment. Quine and her attorneys argued the state’s policy on the restricted access to commissary items have a foundation in gender norms rather than security concerns.

The complaint for access to the commissary items requested was part of Quine’s request that the CDCR provide her with sex reassignment surgery as a medically necessary treatment for her gender dysphoria. After Quine’s surgery, now set for December, she will be placed in a CDCR facility for female inmates, and will have access to the items designated for female inmates.

Ilona Turner, legal director at the Transgender Law Center, said in a statement that transgender women should not be denied items that other women in CDCR facilities can access. “We are pleased that the court recognizes the importance of having access to clothing and personal items that reflect a person’s gender, and that denying items because someone is transgender is discrimination,” she said.

Kent Scheidegger said the ruling was ridiculous. He serves as the legal director at the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, a nonprofit law organization that advocates for the “swift and certain punishment” of criminals on behalf of their victims rights of crime victims, in addition to promoting use of the death penalty.

He further said this increased access to feminine products may exacerbate the problem of sexual assault in men’s prisons, a prevalent issue in the state’s facilities. According to a study conducted by the University of California Irvine on transgender inmates, 59 percent of the transgender population in the California prison system have experienced sexual assault. These statistics suggest that the problem exists independent from transgender woman having greater access to items consistent with their gender identity.

The outcome of Quine’s case follows similar instances in the past year of transgender inmate’s fighting for their right to receive sex reassignment surgery and receive greater support from the prison system. Back in April 2015, a federal judge ruled that transgender inmate Michelle-Lael Norsworthy receive sex reassignment surgery as a medical necessity. In the same month, the Justice Department condemned prisons who do not provide adequate support for their transgender inmates, in a case brought forth by 17-year-old Ashley Diamond.