Apr 5, 2024 - News

5 takeaways from the DOJ's lawsuit against Utah over discrimination of transgender inmate

Illustration of a jail cell door forming the shape of a red cross.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

The U.S. Justice Department sued Utah this week for allegedly discriminating against a transgender inmate.

State of play: The complaint alleged the Utah Department of Corrections did not provide timely medical care to treat an incarcerated woman's gender dysphoria — a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Catch up quick: The lawsuit comes less than a month after the DOJ conducted an investigation into the corrections department and found it had "unnecessarily delayed and restricted" the woman's access to health care to treat her gender dysphoria.

  • After delays and request denials, the woman, whose name has not been released, was driven to remove her testicles through a "dangerous self-surgery" last year, per the investigation.

The other side: In a March 12 statement, Utah Department of Corrections executive director Brian Redd said he was "blindsided" by the DOJ's findings and was disappointed with their approach to the investigation.

  • "We have also taken steps on our own, and as a state, to address the needs of inmates while maintaining the highest safety standards," he said.

Here are some of the key allegations and takeaways from the lawsuit:

The inmate waited over a year for treatment

The woman, who has been incarcerated since July 2021, requested hormone therapy to treat her gender dysphoria for more than 17 months before it was given to her in January 2023.

The corrections facility has a gender dysphoria committee

Utah's Department of Corrections has a "separate policy" and committee for inmates who request treatment for gender dysphoria. Medical and non-medical staff are part of the committee tasked with managing medical evaluations and treatment for gender dysphoria.

  • Different processes don't exist for other medical conditions, the lawsuit noted.

Multiple grievances and appeals were denied

Even after a contract psychologist diagnosed the woman with gender dysphoria, the grievances and appeals associated with the ADA requests she filed were "virtually all" denied by the department.

  • "Complainant's access to care for her gender dysphoria was contingent on a biased and unnecessarily prolonged approval process," attorneys wrote in the suit.
  • Some of her accommodation requests included buying women's clothing and products from the commissary, modifying pat searches and moving to women's facilities.

DOJ recommends additional training for corrections staff

The Justice Department is requesting that the corrections department change its policies and educate staffers on gender dysphoria to comply with the ADA.

Read more: Audit finds "noncompliance" in Utah's prison system health care

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