Prescription for Justice
Prisons operate in part, to strip people of their identities, with the intent to reduce people to identification based on solely a number. This dehumanizing tactic is even more harmful for transgender, gender non-conforming, non-binary and intersex (TGNCNBI) folks. According to a 2022 report by the Sentencing Project, TGNCNBI folks also experience higher rates of sexual harassment and/or violence, are more likely to be placed in solitary confinement and are less likely to have familial/friend support networks outside of the prison. The survey also states that TGNCNBI inmates rarely have access to gender-affirming clothing or gender-aligned housing while incarcerated. Forcing people into pre-designated categories, rather than asking them where they would feel most secure is a major issue.
THE ISSUE: HEALTHCARE
What’s a major issue in need of reform? One critical area pertains to adequate health care facilities for TGNCNBI offenders. Prisons mandate gender dysphoria diagnoses for incarcerated inmates who want to receive hormone theory or gender affirming surgery. Due to transphobic rhetoric, gender dysphoria is rarely taken seriously as a condition worthy of treatment. This discriminatory rhetoric has a greater impact than prison officials are willing to admit. Pink and Black’s national prisoner survey found that not only is access to routine medical care being denied, but also...
492 out of 1,118 prisoners who partook in the survey were denied access to hormone treatment at some point during their sentence.
WHY SHOULD I CARE?
But why does this matter? Well, if the most vulnerable people in our society are being treated as disposable, their treatment is an indication that the criminal legal system is broken and in desperate need of reformation. The overall lack of resources, especially medical resources, available to TGNCNBI inmates makes their experience inside of prisons that much more difficult. Being declined clothing that aligns to one’s preferred gender, denied access to gender-affirming surgery and/or hormone treatment can amplify symptoms of gender dysphoria, which in turn can increase depressive episodes and suicidal ideation. In other words, prisons are deteriorating the health and well-being of TGNCNBI folks. Being denied healthcare is a cruel and unusual punishment, and it is an affront to the most basic of human rights.
IS THERE HOPE?
So what’s being done about this injustice? There are several non-profit organizations, including Pink and Black, The Sentencing Project and The American Civil Liberties Union who are approaching the issue from a legal perspective. These organizations are working to push for legislation that would make it mandatory for all facilities (at the state and federal level) to offer uniforms and hygiene products of the inmate’s choice, rather than assigning said products upon arrival at the facility. These organizations also advocate for the recognition of gender dysphoria as a serious medical condition. Finally, there are a few conversations about the importance of implementing mental health counseling resources in facilities across the nation.
Medical care for TGNCNBI folks is a growing area of concern within the criminal justice system, yet changes are being implemented slowly or not at all. The lack of priority given to this critical issue will only act as a way to perpetuate the injustice. When will enough be enough?