I was listening to the Pat Morrison Show on my local public radio station yesterday when Morrison began discussing a lawsuit filed by a transgender female inmate requesting the state pay for her sex reassignment operation so that she can be housed in a female prison.
The lawsuit, filed by Lyralisa Stevens, asserts that she needs the surgery in order to be moved to a female prison because she is currently harassed and sexually assaulted by the male inmates in her current facility. Stevens—who was born male—entered prison after having silicone injections in her breasts and hips to make her look more feminine. She is serving 50 years to life for killing a woman over a dispute about clothes.
In accordance with a 1990 court ruling mandating prisons continue hormone treatments for transgender inmates, Stevens has been given hormone injections since her incarceration in 2003. But now she wants the prison to pay for her sex reassignment surgery stating its “medically necessary, and that removal of her penis and testicles and transfer to a women’s prison are the best way to protect her from rape and abuse by male inmates.”
Although many scoff at the price of sex change operations—ranging anywhere from $15,000 to $50,000—and argue prisons should only provide minimal care for inmates, some say that allowing transgender inmates to have sex reassignment surgery and be housed with prisoners of their identified gender will not only cut costs associated with protecting and housing transgender inmates in special areas, but also keep them safe.
Despite the constant threat transgender inmates face, however, some transgender female prisoners don’t want to be moved to women’s prisons.
Thomas Strawn, 52, who uses the name Lisa and is serving a life sentence after a third-strike conviction for burglary, said she is in a committed relationship with the man in the next cell and would not want to move.
“I stayed single for an entire year when I got here,” Strawn said. “But now I got with somebody and I’ve been with him now two years.”
Others, such as convicted killer David, or Bella, Birrell, 58, who said she had been raped in prison, would like to be transferred to a women’s facility. “You don’t have to worry about the constant harassment like you get from the men here,” she said.
While states continue to struggle with how to properly care for and protect its inmates, one thing is clear: things aren’t getting any easier.
What do you think? Should states have to pay for gender reassignment surgery for its inmates?
Let’s talk about it!