Though there have been advancements in policies for incarcerated transgendered inmates, we believe that their human rights continue to be violated. The policy we have chosen to examine is the current 2008 policy for transgendered inmates looking to have SRS (http://www.cscscc.gc.ca/text/plcy/cdshtm/800-cde-eng.shtml). The Commissioner’s Directives 800-36 a. states that SRS will only be granted to a prisoner if a recognized specialist has stated that they have passed the real life test, as described in the Harry Benjamin Standards of Care, for a least a year before imprisonment.
The Harry Benjamin Standards of Care (http://wpath.org/Documents2/socv6.pdf) are clinical guidelines intended to provide directions for people with gender dysphoria. The guideline mentioned in the policy is that of the real life experience. When a specialist assess whether an offender has passed the real life test they review the person’s abilities in the new gender role in 6 areas:
To maintain employment
To function as a student
To function in community based volunteer activity
To undertake a combination of 1-3
To acquire a new legal name
To provide proof that other people besides the therapist know that the inmate functions in the new gender role
If and only if the patient demonstrates stability in these 6 areas can surgery be recommended by the specialist. There is an ongoing debate outside prison walls as to whether the SOC is a fair assessment. One of the main arguments against seems to be the undefined and ambiguous interpretation of what stability means. This becomes highlighted even more when a transgendered person is incarcerated because that can be seen as instability in the eyes of society, but is not necessarily relevant to the person’s gender transitioning. The policy also mentions that the prisoner has to have been living up to SOC standards as the new gender for at least a year before incarceration. Meaning anyone who is at an earlier stage of their transition is not going to be eligible for SRS at anytime while imprisoned.
Part b of The Commissioner’s Directives 800-36, states that not only does the prisoner have to pass the real life test and be living by SOC standards for a year, but the recognized gender identity specialist (chosen by the institution) must recommend that the surgery be allowed during incarceration. So even after satisfying the SOC, the specialist can still deny the prisoner their right to SRS for whatever reason they see fit.
Though it is defiantly an improvement to have a standard policy for transgendered inmates and SRS, 800-36 is too vague and open to interpretation by prison officials, leaving plenty of room for the continual oppression of transgendered prisoners.