‘Get Out of Jail Free’ Card Shifts Sex-Altering Costs for California

One of the ways California came to have a new, just-passed budget with a surplus estimated to amount to “hundreds of millions of dollars” is by curbing avoidable and unnecessary expenses. One of the more unusual ways the state has attempted to do that is to grant a highly unusual ‘get out of jail free’ card to an individual recently granted the right to have a state-financed “medically necessary” sex-change operation.

After a Ninth Circuit Court judge ordered California’s state prison system to provide sex-change surgery to a transgender inmate, Gov. Jerry Brown decided that instead of being cut, the inmate should be cut loose – paroled – perhaps saving the state tens of thousands in medical costs.

Perhaps: While Michelle-Lael Norsworthy’s ‘get out of jail free card’ would let the prison system off the hook for her surgery, the 51-year-old parolee could be eligible, as a low-income individual, for coverage of the procedure by Medi-Cal, the state-funded Medicaid program.

At age 21, Norsworthy fatally shot Franklin Gordon Liefer, 26, after an argument outside a bar. That was in 1985. She – then he, Jeffrey Bryan Norsworthy – was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole.

Upon learning in 2012 that a Massachusetts had ordered that state to fund a sex-change procedure for an inmate – a decision later overturned on appeal – Michelle asked California’s corrections system to cover her physical conversion costs and provide the appropriate procedure. California appealed to the 9th Circuit Court after U.S. District Court Judge Jon Tigar rules the state should fund the procedure.

Her lawsuit cited Prison psychologist William Reese as having declared, in 2012, that “clinical and medical necessity suggest and mandate a sex change medical operation before normal mental health can be achieved for this female patient”.

After a Board of Paroles’ hearing recommendation that Michelle, who was identified as having gender identity disorder in 1999, be released, Gov. Brown decided that, after nearly 30 years in prison, she doesn’t pose a threat to society and should be allowed to leave prison.

michelle_Norsworthy--AP

Michelle Norsworthy   Photo: Associated Press

She’s been taking female hormones for some time, and has been provided woman’s clothing and counseling to aid her transition – but she’s housed in a men’s facility, Mule Creek State Prison, near Sacramento. Prison records continue to identify her by her (male) birth name.

The Circuit Court decision to hear the state’s appeal was predicated on the possibility – a strong one, in the Circuit Court’s opinion – that denying the procedure was a denial of the prisoner’s constitutional rights (under the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution) prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment.

On Friday (Aug. 8), the day after Michelle’s parole was OK’d, California told the federal court it has agreed to provide another inmate, Shiloh Quine, 56, the sex-change procedure to settle a separate lawsuit.

Formerly known as Rodney James Quine, Shiloh — who’s also received gender identification counseling in prison — was sentenced to life in prison when s/he was convicted of murder, kidnapping and robbery.

Jeffrey Callison, a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said in an email that, “CDCR evaluates every case individually, and in the Quine case, every medical doctor and mental health clinician who has reviewed this case, including two independent mental health experts, determined that this surgery is medically necessary for Quine.”

The state hasn’t indicated yet when Norsworthy will be released or when Quine will receive her procedure. But if Norsworthy is released before her surgery, Quine is likely to become the first California inmate to undergo a state-funded sex-change procedure.

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