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Transgender inmate settles lawsuit with Oregon over medical treatment

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon said Michelle Wright (pictured) had been subjected to cruel and unusual punishment because she was denied hormone treatment and counseling. (via ACLU Oregon)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Department of Corrections has settled a lawsuit filed on behalf of a transgender inmate who said she was denied medical care.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon said Michelle Wright had been subjected to cruel and unusual punishment because she was denied hormone treatment and counseling.

“This is a huge victory for our client and all transgender prisoners in Oregon,” said Mat dos Santos, legal director at the ACLU of Oregon. “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.”

The suit said the inmate was diagnosed with gender dysphoria and has attempted suicide several times while in custody.

“Watching your child suffer needlessly is the worst pain a parent can experience,” said Victoria Wright, mother of the plaintiff. “Everyone knew that Michalle needed hormone treatment and mental health care, but until the ACLU got involved, my daughter’s cries for help went unanswered. They just didn’t care.”

In the settlement announced Tuesday, Wright will receive $167,500 in damages.

The state is also giving her hormone treatments and will consider transferring her to a women's prison.

Wright was convicted of attempted armed robbery in 2013.

Her earliest release date is November 2018.

The Oregon Department of Corrections released a copy of the settlement.

The agency also issued a statement attributed to Director Colette Peters:

"Although ODOC disagreed with many of the allegations in this litigation, we never disputed the basic principles that transgender individuals within our care and custody should have access to quality medical and mental health care, and that they should be treated in a respectful, inclusive manner. The settlement agreement in this case affirms and reinforces ODOC's commitments to these principles, and allows ODOC to move forward with these commitments without further litigation.
I am proud of the work that ODOC has done in this area. ODOC has been a national leader in developing progressive policies for the care and treatment of the transgender individuals in our care and custody. The commitments set forth in this settlement agreement are a continuation of that leadership. In addition, I am proud of ODOC's longstanding, collaborative relationship with Basic Rights Oregon (BRO), and we look forward to working with BRO on the development of medical protocols for the treatment of Gender Dysphoria.
I wish Ms. Wright success in her further endeavors. ODOC will not have any additional comment on this settlement."
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