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Law Denying Hormone Therapy to Wisconsin Inmates Unconstitutional

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By Robyn Hagan Cain on August 09, 2011 4:03 PM

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Friday that a law prohibiting the administration of hormone therapy to Wisconsin inmates diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder, (GID), was unconstitutional.

The Wisconsin legislature passed the law, called the Inmate Sex Change Prevention Act, in 2005 to assuage public outcry surrounding news reports that state tax dollars were funding prisoners' sex changes. Three transgender inmates sued to challenge the law after their hormone therapies were reduced in 2006.

While civil rights advocates like the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal have praised the decision, some Wisconsin government officials say that the Constitution does not support the court’s reasoning.

Executive Assistant Attorney General Steven Means told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, “We don’t believe the Constitution requires prison officials to provide hormone therapy and sexual reassignment surgery to prisoners.”

The state argued that the Wisconsin inmates’ needs were addressed with anti-depressants and therapy as needed. It also argued that the measure was in transgender inmates’ best interest as feminine male inmates were more likely to be targeted for violence.

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the state’s argument, noting, “Surely, had the Wisconsin Legislature passed a law that [Department of Corrections] inmates with cancer must be treated only with therapy and pain killers, this court would have no trouble concluding that the law was unconstitutional. Refusing to provide effective treatment for a serious medical condition serves no valid penological purpose and amounts to torture.”

Wisconsin officials are reviewing the decision to decide if the state will appeal to the Supreme Court.

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