Fed Prisons Change ‘Freeze Frame’ Trans Medical Policy
The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), as a result of an inmate’s lawsuit, has ended its so-called “freeze frame” policy in which treatment for any person with gender identity disorder (GID) is maintained only at the level provided when the prisoner entered the federal prison system.
This restriction has meant that trans people with a GID diagnosis who had not undergone medical treatment prior to being incarcerated could not then have treatment for their medically recognized condition while serving their sentence.
This was the case for Vanessa Adams, a BOP inmate at FMC Butner in North Carolina. Ms. Adams, who has gender identity disorder, sued BOP in order to receive appropriate treatment for her medically recognized condition. She was forced to do this even though it was in fact BOP doctors that diagnosed her, told her what treatments were available, and characterized her condition as serious.
BOP has now changed its policy to allow for appropriate treatment of GID that does not stop at the level previously held prior to incarceration. This change was noted via two memoranda, dated May 31, 2011, and June 15, 2010, from BOP’s Medical Director to all BOP’s chief executive officers. The May 2011 memorandum ends:
In summary, inmates in the custody of the Bureau with a possible diagnosis of GID will receive a current individualized assessment and evaluation. Treatment options will not be precluded solely due to level of services received, or lack of services, prior to incarceration.
This information has has reportedly been given to all prisoners who have been diagnosed with GID, as well as to medical staff.
More on the case from the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) press release:
“BOP’s freeze frame policy trapped transgender prisoners in despair, leading often to depression, suicide attempts, and in many cases, serious self-harm, as was the case with Vanessa,” said Jennifer L. Levi, Transgender Rights Project Director for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD).
When the suit was filed on February 24, 2009, Ms. Adams was at a federal prison in Florida. There she was being denied medically necessary hormone therapy and prevented from otherwise expressing a female gender identity because she had not received this treatment prior to her incarceration. In a June 7, 2010 ruling, Federal District Court Judge Joseph L. Tauro rejected BOP’s argument that Ms. Adams’ claim was moot because BOP had finally started Ms. Adams on hormone therapy.
Citing BOP’s consistently callous conduct toward Ms. Adams, the fact that BOP could stop her treatment at any time, and that BOP did not disavow its policy, Judge Tauro sent the case to mediation. With today’s settlement, the parties jointly agreed to end the case.
Cassandra Capobianco of Florida Institutional Legal Services said, “It is critical not only for Vanessa’s health and safety but for the good of other prisoners that BOP’s policy has been changed.”
“We applaud the BOP for getting rid of an unfair policy that has denied medically necessary care to many people. We hope that other state and county prison systems will follow BOP’s lead and eliminate discriminatory policies that are based on bias rather than medical need,” said Jody Marksamer, a staff attorney at the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
In addition to GLAD, Ms Adams was represented by Florida Institutional Legal Services (FILS), the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), Bingham McCutchen LLP, and Allyson Kurker.
Lawmakers in some states have moved to try and prevent trans inmates from accessing treatment for their medically recognized condition, most recently Michigan Representative Thomas Hooker who in August introduced a bill that would ban gender reassignment surgery for prisoners, and possibly all gender reassignment surgeries funded through tax payer assistance programs. You can read more on that here.