Federal judge rules California transgender inmates must get some female items

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A federal judge ruled Thursday that California prison officials must let transgender inmates have more female-oriented commissary items including nightgowns, robes, sandals, scarves and necklaces as part of a settlement that will make the stat the first to pay for an inmate’s sex reassignment surgery.

California agreed in August to provide some items to transgender inmates who are housed in male prisons, aside from providing surgery to 56-year-old Shiloh Quine.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Nandor Vadas decided that the policy didn’t go far enough. He said transgender inmates housed in men’s prisons should have many of the same items provided to female inmates.

Shiloh’s attorneys argued that the state was keeping some items from transgender prisoners “based solely upon gender norms” rather than security concerns.

Vadas agreed with Quine’s attorneys, saying the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation should give transgender inmates or those having symptoms of gender dysphoria in men’s prisons at least some access to chains and necklaces, pajamas and nightgowns, robes, sandals, scarves, T-shirts and walking shoes.

However, Vadas drew the line at bracelets, earrings, hair brushes, and hair clips, saying those may pose some safety risks.

"Transgender women like Shiloh shouldn't be denied items that every other woman in CDCR custody has access to," Ilona Turner, legal director at the Oakland-based Transgender Law Center, said in a statement. "We are pleased that the court recognizes the importance of having access to clothing and personal items that reflect a person's gender, and that denying items because someone is transgender is discrimination."

Quine is serving a life sentence for murder, kidnapping and robbery at Mule Creek State Prison. The men's prison, which is in Ione 50 miles southeast of Sacramento, houses about 3,200 inmates. She is set for surgery in December.

Kent Scheidegger, legal director at the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which supports crime victims, called Vadas' ruling "ridiculous."

"Civil rights laws should not create a right to such minor matters. The civil rights of prisoners are to not be treated cruelly, and getting down to such details goes far beyond what a reasonable interpretation of civil rights laws would provide," he said.

Moreover, the feminine items may cause problems in men's prisons, he said.

"Sexual assault does happen in prison, it's a major problem and certainly people who have a feminine appearance are more likely to be targets," Scheidegger said.

Corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton declined comment, citing the ongoing litigation.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.