The Michigan Department of Corrections has revised its policy on transition-related care for transgender inmates. Before the change, inmates were only allowed to receive hormone therapy or gender-affirming surgery if this care was already scheduled before the person was incarcerated. Now, trans inmates can start this care in prison.
The change in policy was campaigned for by Jami Naturalite, a transgender woman incarcerated in Michigan, who advocated for the change with support from the ACLU of Michigan and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Naturalite was struggling to receive hormone therapy in prison, as her request for her transition care was denied by the Michigan Department of Corrections.
David Dinielli is with the Southern Poverty Law Center. He says the Michigan corrections system was not originally on the radar of the SPLC until Naturalite reached out to them.
"She wanted to see if she could become a force for change within the Michigan Department of Corrections," Dinielli said.
The Southern Poverty Law Center says transgender inmates need access to transition-specific medical care because withholding it puts them at risk of anxiety, depression, and suicide. To change the MDOC's policy, it was argued that denying this care to transgender inmates is cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment.
The MDOC change also includes offering non-medical resources to transgender inmates, like personal grooming tools and semi-private shower facilities. Dinielli says this is a critical step to treating trans inmates with respect.
"People who have experienced gender dysphoria often times don't need hormones or surgical interventions," he said. "Often times people simply need respect and the ability to live as the gender that they truly are."
The Michigan Department of Corrections has formed a Gender Dysphoria Collaborative Review Committee to evaluate inmate requests for hormone therapy. It will also be able to approve gender-affirming surgeries on a case-by-case basis.
Although the change officially took place today, Jami Naturalite has been approved for hormone therapy, which she began last month. She responded to the new policy in a letter to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
"[The new policy] ends a struggle within the MDOC, one that caused unknown trials and tribulations upon my trans-sisters, as well as upon myself."