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New GID Policy for NYS Prisons, Yet Healthcare Still Inaccessible

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At the end of last month, The Private Manning Support Network posted a letter that details Ms. Chelsea Manning’s intentions to fight for hormone replacement therapy (HRT), gender-consistent “real life experience” (RLE) and “sex-reassignment surgery” (SRS) within the correctional facility she will be serving her thirty-five year sentence, the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth (USDB).

David Coombs, Manning’s attorney, was quoted as saying he hoped the prison would “do the right thing” by allowing her to receive appropriate treatment, but our experiences at SRLP have proven that the prison system rarely cooperates with the needs of transgender people who are incarcerated.

Although New York State’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) recently changed their policy relating to transgender prisoners, the change does little to actually help our PAC Members who seek hormone therapy and other gender-affirming healthcare.

The old policy stated that HRT could only be requested by prisoners who had received a diagnosis of “Gender Dysphoria” or “Gender Identity Disorder” (GID) prior to incarceration, and had also received a prescription for hormones prior to incarceration.

While the new policy provides a process for people to be evaluated by a DOCCS-approved psychologist – and then receive a prescription for hormones following a diagnosis of GID – the entire process is plagued with administrative barriers at each stage of evaluation, diagnosis and treatment.

For example, PAC Members experience long delays and outright denials to treatment. Following a denial, a cumbersome sequence of grievances and appeals must be filed, and the matter may even need to be taken to court, as Ms. Manning plans to do if her requests are denied.

For more information about related legal claims and how to file an appeal after a denial of treatment, see the Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York’s Pro Se article on the issue.

The new policy does offer one (albeit limited) dividend to transgender women in DOCCS custody who are successful in receiving a GID diagnosis: state-issued bras. Access to other items relevant to a consistent gender presentation (such as underwear, cosmetics and grooming products) are still prohibited, however.

For more information about the new DOCCS policy, check out our Resources section and look under “Prison Advocacy”.

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The Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP) works to guarantee that all people are free to self-determine gender identity and expression, regardless of income or race, and without facing harassment, discrimination or violence.

This blog, which features letters from our Prisoner Advisory Committee (PAC) members, is just one way we overcome the enormous state-created barriers to communication and political participation for the people who are most affected by the prison system.

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