Transgender Prison Inmate Wanted Surgery, Got Paroled Instead

Monday, August 10, 2015
Michelle-Lael Norsworthy

California officials really, really didn’t want to provide prison inmate Michelle-Lael Norsworthy with sex reassignment surgery, even after a federal judge said they had to―and may have found a way out.

Governor Jerry Brown’s office said on Friday that it would not block a decision by the Board of Parole Hearings to grant the 51-year-old convicted killer parole. A federal judge ordered that the state provide the former Jeffrey Bryan Norsworthy’s surgery in April, but the July medical date was delayed while the ruling was appealed.

Parole probably relieves the prison officials of that obligation. Norsworthy was serving a 17-year-sentence for second-degree murder with the use of a firearm.

But even as the state made one final gesture of defiance toward the courts and Norsworthy, it did a 180 and agreed to a settlement with another prisoner for her surgery. The Transgender Law Center said Shiloh Heavenly Quine will be moved to a women’s facility and provided with medical care, including surgery.

As part of the settlement, the state will reportedly change its policies to allow transgender inmates to purchase clothing and accessories consistent with their gender identity at prison commissaries. It also made clear its commitment to providing medically necessary medical treatment for transgenders.

“Ms. Quine will be the first transgender inmate in the country to receive gender-affirming surgery while incarcerated, to our knowledge,” Flor Bermudez, Detention Project director at Transgender Law Center, said. The former Rodney James Quine is serving a life sentence for murder, kidnapping and robbery.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) told the Associated Press in an email that it was treating Quine differently than Norsworthy because, “CDCR evaluates every case individually, and in the Quine case, every medical doctor and mental health clinician who has reviewed this case, including two independent mental health experts, determined that this surgery is medically necessary for Quine.”

U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar had been very unhappy with the state’s principle expert witness in Norsworthy’s case, Dr. Stephen Levine, a psychiatrist. Judge Tigar wrote in his opinion:

“The court gives little weight to the opinions of Levine, whose report misrepresents the Standards of Care; overwhelmingly relies on generalities about gender dysphoric prisoners, rather than an individualized assessment of Norsworthy; contains illogical inferences; and admittedly includes references to a fabricated anecdote.”

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Transgender Prison Inmate Seeking Sex-Reassignment Surgery Will Be Released (by Paige St. John, Los Angeles Times)

Governor Allows Parole for Transgender California Inmate (Associated Press)

Federal Judge Says California Should Pay for Inmate’s Sex Change (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

State of CA and Transgender Law Center Reach Historic Settlement over Trans Prisoner Health Care (Transgender Law Center)

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