New Podcast Looks At How Prisons Might Need To Treat Transgender Inmates

Jul 11, 2019

Any day now, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will rule on the case of Adree Edmo. She’s a transgender woman currently in prison in Idaho. She sued the state for sex reassignment surgery—and won.

The state appealed. And now the 9th Circuit’s decision on her case could have implications not only for her but for transgender inmates across the West and potentially the nation.

Our Mountain West News Bureau reporter Noah Glick spoke with Amanda Peacher, the host of a new podcast looking at this story, called LOCKED.

Glick: Who is Adree Edmo and why should we care about her case?

Peacher: Adree Edmo is frankly a complicated person. She grew up in Fort Hall, the Fort Hall Indian Reservation. That’s the reservation of the Shosone-Bannock tribes in eastern Idaho. And she grew up in pretty tough circumstances, in an environment that included domestic abuse, alcoholism and povery.

One of the things that complicates her story is her crime. She’s in prison for sexual abuse of a 15-year-old when she was 22, and so we get into this in our coverage. She struggled with her sexual identity as she was growing up, she says. And in prison, she is diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

Explain that to us. What is gender dysphoria?

Gender dysphoria is distress from being born in a body that doesn’t match your gender identity. And one of the recommended treatments, certainly not the only treatment, but one treatment that is possible for that is sex reassignment surgery.

That sounds like it’s a lot to get into, right?

This whole story is a lot to get into and that’s why we decided to do a podcast about it. So it’s called LOCKED and it drops this week. And there are many, many layers of Adree Edmo’s story and beyond that we get into in this podcast: why she’s in prison, the treatment for gender dysphoria, which is not well understood by the public, how Adree’s surgery would be paid for should she win.

This is a huge political issue here in conservative Idaho, but beyond in the West. And we also get into the gap between public perception, both of the medical treatment for gender dysphoria, but also between that and the medical consensus around that treatment.

Like I said, this is a touchy issue and we explore all those layers in the podcast.

Listen to LOCKED from the Mountain West News Bureau and Boise State Public Radio

Where do you take us with this podcast? It sounds like a deep story, so where does this podcast go?

We go to Fort Hall, where Adree Edmo grew up to talk to some people who knew her back then. One of our reporters also went to northern Idaho to interview one of the only surgeons in our region who does this surgery. I also went to the oral arguments when Edmo’s case went before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco back in May.

So you were there for the hearing? What was that like?

It was fascinating to watch the two sides kind of play out their arguments. We don’t have any idea of when there might be a decision in Adree Edmo’s case, but the heart of the case for Edmo’s attorney is something they call deliberate indifference. Her lead attorney, Lori Rifkin says that this case is as clear cut as treating a cancer patient.

“If somebody requires surgery or chemotherapy or radiation to shrink their tumor, that is what we give them,” Rifkin said.

And Edmo’s attorneys aruge that not providing that treatment is deliberately indifferent to Edmo’s medical needs. And that’s a violation of the 8th Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment of prisoners.

But the other side argues that this is about medical judgement. I talked to Walter Olson, who’s a senior fellow with the Cato Institute. He says this case is essentially a battle of the experts.

“It may seem like an objective thing to figure out what are someone’s medical needs. And then you try to put that into effect, and as you know, if you ask five different health insurance plans what is medically necessary will carry five different answers,” he said.

And that’s essentially the argument from the state here, that this is not medically necessary care for Edmo.

What are the stakes, both for Edmo and other transgender inmates just like her?

If Edmo wins her case, she would receive her surgery and then be transferred to a women’s prison. But beyond that, it could change the way that prisons treat inmates who are diagnosed with severe gender dysphoria. It doesn’t mean that every inmate is going to get the surgery or be provided with the surgery if they’re transgender or diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

But it does mean that prisons here in the West will have to seriously consider that need for those inmates with gender dysphoria. It could be a precedent setting case if Edmo wins.

Find LOCKED on Apple Podcasts >>

Find LOCKED on Google Play >>

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Find LOCKED on NPR >>

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Copyright 2019 KUNR. For more, visit kunr.org.