In a first, transgender inmate receives court-ordered surgery

Adree Edmo (Photo: Black and Pink/Facebook)

Amanda Peacher

Adree Edmo, Shoshone-Bannock, has been transferred to a women’s prison in Idaho after undergoing the gender confirmation procedure last month

Amanda Peacher
Special to Indian Country Today

For the first time in U.S. history, a transgender inmate has been provided court-ordered gender confirmation surgery.

Adree Edmo, a Shoshone-Bannock citizen and transgender woman, was treated with the surgery in July. She was then transferred to a women’s correctional facility in Pocatello, Idaho, on July 31 and is still recovering. Edmo has previously been housed in prisons for men.

Edmo’s attorney says the surgery was a success. Through her counsel, Edmo released a brief statement following the procedure. “I feel a great sense of relief. So much pressure and inner turmoil is gone,” Edmo said. “I feel whole and connected in myself. The surgery itself was literally life-changing. I’m extremely grateful that I finally received the treatment.”

The procedure was the result of a legal battle with the state of Idaho and Corizon Inc., a private health care contractor, that spanned more than three years. 

Edmo is diagnosed with gender dysphoria, which is when someone’s gender identity conflicts with their sex assigned at birth. Gender dysphoria can cause extreme stress, and Edmo twice attempted to castrate herself with a razor while incarcerated. She has been treated with hormone therapy since 2012 but said that wasn’t enough to curb the distress caused by her anatomy.

Related:
 Shoshone-Bannock transgender inmate makes history with legal fight
 Go in-depth on Adree Edmo's case with the podcast LOCKED

In 2018, a federal judge agreed that denying Edmo the surgery amounted to cruel and unusual punishment, and ordered the state to provide it. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also ruled in Edmo’s favor, and when the state asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case, the justices declined to put a hold on Edmo’s surgery in a 7-2 decision.

Edmo’s victory sets a precedent for prisons across much of the western U.S., and has spurred prisons in other parts of the country to reexamine their policies for treating inmates with severe gender dysphoria.

“The Edmo case certainly lit a fire under us,” said Walter Campbell, chief psychologist for the Idaho Department of Correction. He said it was one of several legal challenges that caused the prison to ditch rules prohibiting trans women from wearing makeup or bras. “The truth is, you go to any conference on correctional management in health care, (and) how we manage this population is a hot burning topic everywhere,” Campbell said.

Idaho Gov. Brad Little has said taxpayers should not be on the hook for paying for gender confirmation surgery for Edmo and suggested it might open doors for other inmates to request the same treatment. The procedure can cost around $30,000 but is paid for by Corizon Inc.

The legal win doesn’t mean any inmate who requests gender confirmation surgery can get the treatment — it would still have to be deemed medically necessary by doctors who are familiar with the standards of care for treating gender dysphoria.

Edmo’s transfer to a woman’s prison is a first for Idaho. The state’s current policy is to house incarcerated individuals based on their anatomy, so most transgender women are imprisoned alongside men, and vice versa. Many U.S. prisons house inmates based on their physical anatomy rather than their gender identity, although that is starting to change in some states.

Edmo is from Fort Hall, on the Shoshone-Bannock Indian reservation in eastern Idaho. At age 22, she was convicted of sexual abuse of a 15-year-old and sentenced to serve up to 10 years in prison. Edmo is scheduled to be released in July 2021.

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Amanda Peacher is a reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau and host of the podcast LOCKED: a disturbing crime, a desperate act, and how one case could change the way prisons treat some transgender inmates. 

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