Trans convicts must have access to gender-affirming care in Washington prisons, landmark ruling finds

A person holding a trans flag in the sky.

A federal court in Seattle, Washington has ruled that transgender convicts deserve access to quality gender-affirming care in a landmark decision.

The four-year fight for gender-affirming care for trans inmates, which was first brought to court by advocacy group Disability Rights Washington, finally came to an end on Wednesday, 11 October.

The group had alleged in their suit that state prison officials had denied or interrupted prisoners’ hormone therapy treatment, discouraged prisoners from transitioning, and allowed strip searches by prison guards of the opposite gender, local media KUOW reports

An image showing a person holding a transgender flag against a pale pink wall. The picture does not show the person's face
Washington state prisons must now offer gender-affirming care to trans prisoners. (Getty/DBenitostock)

A settlement, signed by a federal judge last week, requires prisons in the state of Washinton to improve healthcare for trans prisoners by hiring a designated MD for gender-affirming care at the State Department of Corrections and a gender-affirming mental health specialist at all major state prisons. Additionally, smaller prisons must provide trans prisoners with access to telehealth.

The settlement also demanded that prison officers undergo trans-focused training and that the Department of Corrections provide gender-affirming clothing and other property to trans prisoners.

Plus, trans inmates will be allowed to decide which gender of officer will give them pat-downs.

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Trans inmates will be allowed to decide which gender of officer will give them pat-downs. (Edward Smith/ Getty Images)

Transgender inmates who came to prison with a prescription for hormone replacement therapy (HRT) will be allowed to continue taking their prescription from behind bars, while trans inmates who want to start HRT from prison will be able to do so.

Finally, the settlement requires the state department to pay $1.5 million in legal costs and $300,000 annually for compliance period costs.

Commenting on the settlement, staff attorney for Disability Rights Washington, Ethan Frenchman, told KUOW that this was “one of the best and most comprehensive consent decrees in the country concerning the treatment of transgender people in prison or jail.”

He added that this ruling “is also a landmark because it explicitly ties prison medical care to community Medicaid standards.”

A person holds up a sign during an LGBTQ+ demonstration that reads 'gender-affirming care saves lives' in the colours of the trans pride flag
The settlement has been described as a “landmark ruling” on both sides. (Getty)

Meanwhile, the Department of Corrections Secretary Cheryl Strange, who was a named defendant in the case, also celebrated the ruling.

“This is a landmark agreement and we look forward to continuing to work closely with DRW to implement it,” she said in a statement.

“We have already made substantial improvements to the gender-affirming care offered to transgender incarcerated individuals in recent years, and this is another step in the right direction.”