Metro Weekly

Transgender inmate in Oregon settles lawsuit over denial of medical care

Lawsuit claims Michalle Wright was subjected to "cruel and unusual punishment" when she was denied treatment

Michalle Wright – Photo: ACLU of Oregon.

The Oregon Department of Corrections has settled a lawsuit filed on behalf of a transgender inmate who claimed she was denied medical care while in custody.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon filed suit against the department, saying Michalle Wright has been subjected to cruel and unusual punishment because she was denied hormone treatment and counseling, despite asking for treatment over 100 times since being convicted of attempted armed robbery in 2013.

Because she was denied care and suffered from gender dysphoria, Wright attempted suicide and self-castration several times while in custody, the ACLU claimed in its lawsuit. To add insult to injury, Wright alleges that guards at the Oregon State Correctional Institution told her to “man up,” and “be a man,” and repeatedly called her a “fag” and a “fucking freak.”

As part of the settlement, the Oregon Department of Corrections has promised to provide Wright with access to doctors and any health care that has been deemed medically necessary, including mental health services, hormone therapy, and gender confirmation surgery. Those same services will be offered to other transgender and gender-nonconforming prisoners going forward.

The state may also consider moving Wright to a women’s prison. But even if she isn’t moved from the state correctional institution, the Department of Corrections could be punished for violating the settlement agreement if the guards continue to harass or verbally insult Wright while she’s in custody.

The state has agreed to pay Wright $167,500 and $100,000 in attorneys’ fees. Wright, who was forced to rack up debt after she was charged by the state for her medical care following a suicide attempt, will also have those debts forgiven.

Lastly, the Department of Corrections has agreed to work with the LGBTQ organization Basic Rights Oregon and the ACLU of Oregon to ensure that their policies and training continue to align with the standards of care for transgender people.

“This is a huge victory for our client and all transgender prisoners in Oregon,” the ACLU of Oregon wrote in a blog post. “For too long, Oregon prisons have been treating transgender prisoners in cruel ways and denying them the lifesaving care they need. We look forward to continuing to work with the state to ensure that prison staff are treating transgender prisoners fairly and decently.

We are rightly judged by the way we treat the most vulnerable among us, and today, we hope that once and for all, Oregon’s prisons will treat transgender and gender nonconforming people in their custody with the civility and care that every prisoner is due.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com