Massachusetts Prison Opposes Convict's Sex-Change Demands

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Allowing a convicted killer to get a sex-change operation would pose insurmountable safety and security problems for the state prison system, the Massachusetts corrections chief said.

Harold Clarke, who took over the department in November, said allowing the surgery for Michelle Kosilek could make her a target for assault by other inmates. He said prison officials also have concerns that Kosilek — who is serving a life sentence without parole — could try to escape if she is taken out of state for the surgery.

Clarke outlined his opposition to the surgery in court papers filed this week, mirroring arguments made by his predecessor, Kathleen Dennehy.

Kosilek, 58, was born a man, Robert, but underwent a legal name change to Michelle in 1993 and has been living as a woman in an all-male prison in Norfolk. Robert Kosilek was sentenced to life in prison for murdering wife Cheryl in 1990.

Kosilek sued the Department of Corrections in 2000, claiming the system's refusal to allow the state-funded surgery violated her Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment.

U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf ruled in 2002 that prison officials had failed to adequately treat Kosilek's gender-identity disorder but did not order surgery. Wolf found that Kosilek had not shown that the correction commissioner had shown "deliberate indifference" to her medical needs.

Kosilek sued again in 2005, saying the hormone treatments, laser hair removal and psychotherapy she has received have not been enough to relieve her anxiety and depression.

In a three-page statement filed in court, Clarke said he does not doubt Kosilek's belief that the surgery could reduce her anxiety.

"However, based on my review of the designated trial testimony and my many years of experience as a corrections professional, I believe that the safety and security concerns presented by the prospect of undertaking sex reassignment surgery for Michelle Kosilek are insurmountable," Clarke said.

Kosilek's lawyer, Frances Cohen, wouldn't comment on Clarke's opposition.