By Deborah Sontag with The New York Times
Less than a week after the Justice Department intervened in support of a transgender inmate’s lawsuit against Georgia, the state said Thursday that it had ended its blanket denial of new hormone therapy to transgender inmates and would provide them “constitutionally appropriate medical and mental health treatment.”
The policy change, which occurred Tuesday, was revealed in a federal court hearing on Thursday in Macon in the case of Ashley Diamond, 37, a transgender woman housed in a men’s prison, who said that three years ago Georgia illegally cut off the hormone treatment she had been taking for half her life.
Under Georgia’s “freeze-frame” policy, transgender inmates could not start or expand treatment in prison but could be maintained on medication they were using when they entered the system. This, the Justice Department said, violated prison officials’ obligation to assess and treat gender dysphoria as they would any other condition.
It is unclear why Ms. Diamond was not maintained on hormones; perhaps she could not provide documentation of her treatment, or was not given the opportunity to do so. In any event, Georgia authorities assert that “as of March 2015, inmate Ashley Diamond has been receiving the appropriate treatment.”
Ms. Diamond’s lawyers said Thursday that Ms. Diamond’s hormone dosage appeared to be too low to be therapeutic, but they guardedly welcomed the broader change. “We’re looking forward to evaluating the new policy and are hopeful it will comply with constitutional norms and provide good outcomes for transgender prisoners,” said David Dinielli of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The Justice Department commended Georgia for the policy change.
In her lawsuit, filed in February, Ms. Diamond sought not only the hormones and the policy change but also protection from sexual violence, having endured what her lawsuit says were seven rapes. She asserted that the Georgia Department of Corrections was displaying “deliberate indifference to her serious medical needs and her continued vulnerability to sexual assault, which constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment.”
Thursday’s hearing was convened after the Justice Department’s intervention and a subsequent profile of Ms. Diamond in The New York Times brought considerable attention to her case. It was meant to address an emergency motion seeking Ms. Diamond’s immediate transfer to a lower-security prison, or better protection at Georgia State Prison, where she is now housed.
That issue was not resolved. Judge Marc T. Treadwell of United States District Court continued the hearing so that he could hear direct testimony from Ms. Diamond, who was not present. A new date has yet to be set.
At the nearly three-hour hearing, corrections officials referred to Ms. Diamond by male pronouns. In their legal filings, the defendants challenged the claim that she was sent to Georgia State a few weeks ago in retaliation for her lawsuit, denied her assertion that she had suffered repeated sexual abuse, harassment and attempted assault there, and said she had been offered but turned down protective custody.
Protective custody is a kind of solitary confinement. While in protective custody at previous prisons, Ms. Diamond suffered psychological deterioration, trying to castrate herself and to kill herself.
“I hope they do not move to lock her down again,” Stephen Sloan, the mental health counselor who treated her at another prison, said last week. Dr. Sloan, who is coordinator for the Prison Rape Elimination Act program at his prison, said, “PREA regulations say only under the worst extreme circumstances and only short-term should you lock down victims.”
The regulations also say that correctional agencies should consider each case individually in deciding where to house a transgender inmate. But almost all have continued their practice of assigning transgender women to men’s prisons and jails, according to Just Detention International, an organization dedicated to ending sexual abuse in detention.