Transgender prisoner self-castrates; Arkansas prison is not liable, says the Eighth Circuit

Reid v. Griffin, No. 15-1678 (8th Cir. Dec 17, 2015).

Andrew Reid is locked up in an Arkansas maximum-security prison for first-degree murder. She identifies as a woman. Three years after being incarcerated, she tried to castrate herself. Doctors were able to save one of her testicles. Afterward, the Arkansas Department of Corrections determined that Reid didn’t meet the criteria for gender-identity disorder (also called gender dysphoria). But four months after the Department of Corrections came to this conclusion, Reid cut off her remaining testicle. She underwent emergency surgery and was put on suicide watch.

Reid has now sued the prison, asserting that it violated the Eighth Amendment by its deliberate indifference to her medical needs—i.e., by failing to give her hormone therapy and protect her from self-harm.

The Eighth Circuit concludes that the prison didn’t violate Reid’s rights. The prison had doctors examine Reid, and they concluded she didn’t qualify for hormone therapy. The prison was entitled to defer to the doctors and not provide hormone therapy. And because Reid was not entitled to hormone therapy, the prison isn’t responsible for Reid’s self-castration, either—for, according to Reid, it was the lack of hormone therapy that led her to castrate herself. So the Eighth Circuit affirms the district court’s summary judgment for the prison.

Judge Bye dissents. The doctors knew Reid had gone on a hunger strike to protest the denial of hormone therapy, and had cut off one of her testicles—yet they did absolutely nothing to protect her from herself. Judge Bye thinks a trial is needed to determine whether the doctors ignored a clear risk that Reid would harm herself.

To their credit, the panel majority and Judge Bye both refer to Reid using female pronouns. Less can be said of the Arkansas Department of Corrections, who still officially classifies Reid as “male.”