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Transgender prisoners in Washington state deserve gender affirming care, judge decrees

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A federal judge in Seattle has signed off on a settlement in a lawsuit over the treatment of transgender people in Washington state prisons.

The suit was brought by the advocacy group Disability Rights Washington against the state's Department of Corrections.

Years in the making, in part due to pandemic-related delays, the settlement was filed in federal court last Wednesday, Oct. 11.

The advocacy group has been investigating how incarcerated trans people with disabilities have been treated in Washington prisons over the last six years. They alleged that prison officials discouraged people from transitioning, denied or interrupted hormone therapy, and allowed strip searches by guards of the opposite gender. The agreement applies to all trans people.

Ethan Frenchman, a staff attorney for Disability Rights Washington, told KUOW he thinks the agreement "is one of the best and most comprehensive consent decrees in the country concerning the treatment of transgender people in prison or jail."

Frenchman says the Department of Corrections has been moving in the right direction to improve care during the settlement process. He says it provided its first gender-affirming surgery in 2020.

He adds that the decree "is also a landmark because it explicitly ties prison medical care to community Medicaid standards."

The agreement requires one designated gender-affirming medical specialist, an MD, across the prison system. In addition, it requires one gender-affirming mental health specialist at each major prison. Specialists will be available for telehealth consultations at smaller facilities like camps. The settlement requires the state to pay $1.5 million in legal costs, and $300,000 annually for compliance period costs.

The case is officially closed for now but could be reopened during a monitoring period.

"The consent decree will have the force of a court order, and permit DRW to continue to hold DOC accountable, should they not live up to their agreement, and we fully expect that they will," Frenchman said.

Click below to read the court order.

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Trans Rights V Wa Doc

Lawsuit over treatment of transgender people in Washington state prisons.

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