DOJ claims Utah prison discriminated against transgender woman

Mar 12, 2024, 4:29 PM | Updated: 5:18 pm

Utah State Prison shown, a transgender woman at the prison was reportedly housed with male inmates...

The new Utah State Prison is pictured in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021. (Kristin Murphy Deseret News).

(Kristin Murphy Deseret News)

WASHINGTON D.C. — The U.S. Department of Justice said the Utah Department of Corrections discriminated against a transgender woman inmate.

According to the DOJ, the Utah Department of Corrections violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The DOJ said the UDOC failed to give the transgender woman health care services, even though she had asked for hormone therapy.

The inmate is currently incarcerated in the men’s prison.

Gender dysphoria

The DOJ said the actions by the UDOC represent discrimination against the woman’s disability, gender dysphoria. It’s a condition she had reportedly been diagnosed with many years before she was incarcerated in 2021.

According to The National Institutes of Health, gender dysphoria occurs when a person’s assigned gender at birth disagrees with their gender identity. This can lead to mental health issues like depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts or attempts.

The DOJ said UDOC had “unnecessary eligibility criteria” for gender dysphoria treatment that the department doesn’t have for other conditions.

“It [UDOC] conditioned diagnostic assessment for such care on approval by a committee that included members who expressed bias against individuals who are transgender and reluctance to prescribe medically appropriate treatment for gender dysphoria.”

Denied hormone therapy, appropriate clothing

The DOJ said that when the transgender woman did receive hormone therapy, UDOC officials failed to make sure the therapy was given safely and effectively.

Utah prison officials also reportedly failed to allow the woman to buy female clothing and failed to give her modified pat searches. Both of these are reasonable modifications, according to the DOJ. 

Further, the inmate was reportedly housed with male inmates. According to Utah law, inmate housing is determined after searches conducted by the sheriff’s office.

The DOJ said that, without any of these accommodations, the inmate’s gender dysphoria worsened while she was incarcerated.

Response from Utah Corrections officials

On Tuesday afternoon, the Utah Department of Corrections issued the following statement:

“We have been working to address this complex issue, and were blindsided by today’s public announcement from the Department of Justice. We have also taken steps on our own, and as a state, to address the needs of inmates while maintaining the highest safety standards. We fundamentally disagree with the DOJ on key issues, and are disappointed with their approach.” Brian Redd, Executive Director, Utah Department of Corrections

Recommendations for Utah Corrections officials

The DOJ Civil Rights Division’s Disability Rights Section is now working on the issues with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Utah. The Justice Department is recommending that UDOC modify policies, practices and procedures for people with gender dysphoria.

The DOJ also said that the UDOC should pay compensatory damages to the inmate and other relief.

The DOJ did not say when its investigation began. But during the 2024 legislative session, Utah lawmakers passed a bill banning transgender inmates from being housed in an area that matches their gender identity.

However, this bill has not yet been signed into law.

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DOJ claims Utah prison discriminated against transgender woman