MADISON, Wisconsin, August 9, 2011 ( – An appeals court has upheld a lower court’s support for a group of male inmates who argued that the state’s refusal to pay for hormones to change their body type was a form of torture.

A three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday said that state officials were violating prisoners’ constitutional rights unless they let male inmates receive a hormone regimen to make their bodies more feminine.

The three inmates had sued the state in 2006 after prison officials began reducing their estrogen treatments which, as the court noted in its opinion, supports female self-idenfication by causing “breast development, relocation of body fat, and softening of the skin.”

The court concluded that “plaintiffs could not be effectively treated without hormones” because mental health remedies, such as psychotherapy and antidepressants, “do nothing to treat the underlying disorder” of a perceived incorrect body type, something the court called a “medical condition.”

“Surely, had the Wisconsin legislature passed a law that DOC inmates with cancer must be treated only with therapy and pain killers, this court would have no trouble concluding that the law was unconstitutional,” stated the panel, concluding that refusing the hormones had “no valid penological purpose and amounts to torture.”

The ruling struck down a Wisconsin law specifying that inmates did not have the right to taxpayer-funded hormone alteration or sex reassignment surgery, although the case did not handle the constitutionality of banning the latter procedure.

The same court had ruled in 1987 and again in 1997 that a transgender inmate did not have a right to “any particular type of treatment, such as estrogen therapy,” as long as an adequate alternate therapy was offered. In Friday’s ruling, however, the court concluded that the previous rulings assumed the hormones were more expensive than other treatments, which is not currently the case, and also incorrectly held that other remedies could provide an adequate substitute.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) hailed the ruling against a law they called “cruel.”

“Too often the medical needs of transgender persons are not treated as the serious health issues that they are,” said John Knight, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project.

The Wall Street Journal notes that the Inmate Sex Change Prevention Act was passed in 2005 after reports that taxpayers were subsidizing sex changes for inmates sparked major controversy.


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