Transgender Inmate Fights Release so State Can Pay for Sexual Reassignment Surgery

For most inmates, the goal is to get out of prison as soon as possible. However, Michelle-Lael Norsworthy, an inmate in Sacramento California recommended for parole is not so eager to leave.

Norsworthy was convicted in 1987 for second-degree murder and has served the full 28 year sentence. What makes Norsworthy’s case unique though is not the crime, but changes that happened in prison. Norsworthy was born a man, but has lived as a woman since the 1990s and during the vast majority of the sentence.

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Norsworthy asked to receive sexual reassignment surgery as a necessity for maintaining emotional health and the request was approved. As a result, Norsworthy would receive the sex reassignment surgery and the prison would fund it.

The California panel recommended parole in mid may, which would lead to Norsworthy’s release. However, Norsworthy’s surgery was scheduled for July 1, meaning that it is possible that she will not be able to undergo reassignment prior to release and in turn not receive the prison funding for the surgery.

U.S. District Court Judge Jon Tigar of San Francisco ruled that Norsworthy’s rights are being violated by the Department of Corrections by depriving her of the surgery that should have been provided at an earlier date. Currently, the state of California has several methods of appealing both the parole and the ruling by Judge Tigar, including intervention from the Board of Parole Hearings and from Governor Jerry Brown.

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Currently, Norsworthy is still on track to receive the surgery on July first if there is no intervention from an outside agency. As of right now, Norsworthy is being held at Mule Creek State Prison in Sacramento and continues to be referred to on records by her birth name, Jeffrey Bryan Norsworthy.