California Corrections implements landmark transgender prisoner rights policies

Shiloh Quine

Shiloh Quine

Some incredible news has come out of the California ruling from the case of Shiloh Quine, a transgender woman serving a life sentence in the state. The lawsuit, launched on behalf of Quine against the state of California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) asserted that the Department’s failure to provide her with sex reassignment surgery represented a violation of her 8th amendment rights. The case was settled in favor of Quine in August, but its effects are just now beginning to be felt.

This past week marked the official implementation of a state-wide policy by the CDCR to not only provide access to sex reassignment surgery when warranted by committee, but also to house post-operative transgender inmates to gender-appropriate facilities, and to provide access to commissary and clothing items “consistent with their gender identities.”  It represents the first time that the state will pay for surgery, as opposed to only hormone therapy. And candidates must have a minimum of two years remaining in their sentence prior to be considered eligible. 

The decision could represent the kind of watershed moment in transgender rights we’ve been waiting for, because it institutionalizes the recognition of what medical organizations have been saying for years: that gender dysphoria is a medical condition. As a medical condition, the failure to treat those experiencing the condition in prison constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.