TIME LGBT

Judge Orders California to Pay for Inmate’s Sex Change

A March 28, 2014 photo of Michelle-Lael Norsworthy
California Department of Corrections/AP A March 28, 2014 photo of Michelle-Lael Norsworthy

This is the first time a sex-change surgery has been ordered in California

(SACRAMENTO) — A federal judge on Thursday ordered California’s corrections department to provide a transgender inmate with sex change surgery, the first time such an operation has been ordered in the state.

U.S. District Court Judge Jon Tigar in San Francisco ruled that denying sex reassignment surgery to 51-year-old Michelle-Lael Norsworthy violates her constitutional rights. Her birth name is Jeffrey Bryan Norsworthy.

The ruling marks just the second time nationwide that a judge has issued an injunction directing a state prison system to provide the surgery, said Ilona Turner, legal director at the Transgender Law Center in Oakland, which helped represent Norsworthy.

The previous order in a Massachusetts case was overturned last year and is being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In his ruling in California, Tigar said the surgery has actually been performed just once on an inmate, an apparent reference to a person who castrated himself in Texas then was given the surgery out of necessity.

Norsworthy, who was convicted of murder, has lived as a woman since the 1990s and has what Tigar termed severe gender dysphoria — a condition that occurs when people’s gender at birth is contrary to the way they identify themselves.

“The weight of the evidence demonstrates that for Norsworthy, the only adequate medical treatment for her gender dysphoria is SRS,” Tigar wrote, referring to sex reassignment surgery.

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officials said they are considering whether to appeal the ruling.

“This decision confirms that it is unlawful to deny essential treatment to transgender people” in or out of prison, said Kris Hayashi, executive director of the Transgender Law Center. “The bottom line is no one should be denied the medical care they need.”

If the order stands, Norsworthy would be the first inmate to receive such surgery in California, said Joyce Hayhoe, a spokeswoman for the federal receiver who controls California prison medical care.

Hayhoe said it’s not known how much the surgery would cost, but it could run as high as $100,000, depending on the circumstances.

Corrections officials, in previous court filings, argued that Norsworthy has received proper medical and mental health care for more than 15 years and is in no immediate medical danger if the surgery is not performed.

Her care included counseling, mental health treatment and hormone therapy that the department said “has changed her physical appearance and voice to that of a woman” while helping her find her gender identity.

That care is consistent with what other judges nationwide have found to be appropriate for transgender inmates, the department said.

Norsworthy has been in prison since 1987, serving a life sentence for second-degree murder. She has twice delayed her scheduled parole hearings in recent months.

She currently is housed at Mule Creek State Prison, an all-male prison in Ione, 40 miles southeast of Sacramento.

The sex change surgery would prompt practical problems, the department said.

It said keeping Norsworhy in a men’s prison could invite violence, including possible assault and rape.

But she could also face danger at a women’s prison – or pose a threat herself – because she had a history of domestic violence before her murder conviction, the department said.

Last month, attorneys for the transgender inmate convicted of murder in Massachusetts asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a ruling denying her request for sex reassignment surgery.

A federal judge in 2012 ordered the Massachusetts Department of Correction to grant the surgery to Michelle Kosilek, but the ruling was overturned in December by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

As in California, the appeal in Massachusetts cited security concerns about protecting the inmate.

Courts in other states have ordered hormone treatments, psychotherapy and other treatments but not surgery.

TIME The Brief

#TheBrief: Why America Could Change How It Puts People to Death

3 Inmates in Oklahoma are challenging the use of certain drugs in executions

A new Supreme Court case could mean a change in the chemicals that prisons use for lethal injections. Watch #TheBrief to find out more.

TIME justice

Koch Brother Teams Up With Liberals on Criminal Justice Reform

Charles Koch
Bo Rader—Wichita Eagle/MCT via Getty Images Charles Koch, head of Koch Industries, on Feb 27, 2007.

The push for prison reform gets momentum from a conservative power player

Just days after word emerged that the billionaire Koch brothers will spend nearly a billion dollars to elect conservatives in the 2016 elections, Charles Koch sent a top adviser to Washington to urge Republicans to work with Democrats on a key issue: criminal-justice reform.

Justice reform is not a cause for which the Kochs are normally in the news. The billionaire brothers are known for their lavish giving to conservative candidates and causes, for which they are celebrated on the right and reviled by the left. But for more than a decade, the Kochs have quietly pumped several million dollars into efforts to fix a criminal-justice system that many on both sides of the aisle believe is broken.

Last month, Charles Koch co-authored an op-ed for Politico decrying the “overcriminalization of America.” Now the Kochs are teaming up with some unlikely allies on the left in hopes of rectifying the problem. And their presence in the emerging bipartisan coalition for justice reform underscores the issue’s rare—perhaps unique—status as a cause that has united liberals and conservatives in an era of bitter partisanship.

“There’s just so much movement here,” Mark Holden, senior vice president and general counsel at Koch Industries, tells TIME. “It’s sweeping in a lot of unusual, non-traditional allies, and I think it’s a good thing.”

Holden was standing on Wednesday under the glittering chandeliers and Corinthian columns of a caucus room in the Russell Senate building, where he had just wrapped up a prison-reform discussion organized by The Constitution Project. The event offered the rare tableau where a bipartisan group of activists gathered in Washington to agree on policy, rather than fling accusations.

The motley panel included liberal and conservative senators and congressmen, activists and commentators, who warmly complimented one another’s leadership. Holden was seated next to Van Jones, a former Obama environmental adviser who once accused the Kochs of running a “plantation.” The oddball pair seemed bemused at the strange alliance. “Dogs and cats sleeping together,” Holden joked.

It’s easy to see why the issue attracts both sides. The U.S. has the highest rate of incarceration of any industrialized country in the world (second overall, behind the tiny Seychelles). It has 2.2 million total inmates—more than any other nation, and an increase of 500% over the past three decades. There are some 4,500 federal criminal laws on the books. More than half of the federal prison population consists of nonviolent drug offenders.

“Conservatives and liberals, Democrats and Republicans alike, have come to the conclusion that the system that has developed over the course of the last few decades in this country isn’t working,” said David Keene, a longtime conservative activist. “We’ve come to the conclusion that we have to work together.”

Activists on the left have long been vocal opponents of the justice system’s failings, which disproportionately affect minority groups and the poor. But their right-leaning counterparts have also fought hard to combat the pipeline to prison, for reasons ranging from the big-government bloat to the waste of taxpayer dollars to the dehumanizing conditions that strip individual liberties.

“Most people assume that conservatives are motivated to reform by economics,” says Pat Nolan, the director of the Center for Criminal Justice Reform at the American Conservation Union Foundation. “My experience is not that. It’s the moral issues…There’s no form of government domination greater than imprisonment.”

Holden has been interested in criminal justice since his days working as a jail guard in his hometown of Worcester, Mass. He was in high school and college at the time, and some of the inmates were former classmates. He witnessed the ways the system can suck people in. “These were the kids who were always in trouble,” Holden recalls. “I’ve always kind of been around these issues.”

The Kochs’ commitment in criminal-justice reform dates to the mid-1990s, when the company became embroiled in a court case related to alleged environmental crimes at a a refinery in Corpus Christi, Tex. In 2001, a subsidiary of the company pleaded guilty to concealing environmental violations at the refinery; a multitude of other charges were dropped, but the company paid a $20 million fine to settle the matter. The owners believed they had been victimized by overzealous prosecutors and unclear statutes. “Our view was if we, a large company with many resources, were treated this way, what’s happening to the average American?” Holden says.

The Kochs began donating money to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) to combat prosecutorial abuses. “Once we got involved,” says Holden, “we couldn’t stop.” Since 2004, the Kochs have made annual donations (in the “significant six figures,” according to Holden) to the NACDL. The money is designed to address a broad range of justice issues, from mandatory minimums for drug crimes to the right to competent representation and sentencing disparities for the disadvantaged.

Last month, Holden and Koch laid out a five-point reform plan to change the criminal justice system. It includes ensuring that indigent defendants receive adequate legal counsel, reducing criminal liabilities for inadvertent violations, and restoring rights to youthful and non-violent offenders to help them re-enter the job market after their release. Such beliefs have led the Kochs to team up with liberal organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union to combat issues like harsh sentencing and Sixth Amendment rights. “It’s very, very rare where we have a moment that the stars have aligned in this way,” said Jones.

Progress looks possible at the federal level. Several justice-reform bills have been introduced in Congress. They’re often the product of strange partnerships: one Senate effort, which would adjust mandatory sentencing guidelines, was sponsored by Dick Durbin of Illinois, a leading liberal, and Utah Senator Mike Lee, a Tea Party darling. Another sweeping Senate bill, introduced by Kentucky Republican Rand Paul and New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker, would seal and expunge juvenile records for nonviolent offenders and restrict the use of solitary confinement. But so far the legislation has languished.

The Kochs have the power to change that. Their clout on the right could help sway more conservatives to support criminal justice efforts. Most of the likely 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls have supported some kind of criminal-justice reforms. Given the Kochs’ commitment to the issue, candidates might be wise to make issues like curbing the prison population a larger campaign theme.

Holden says the Kochs won’t make criminal justice a political litmus test, in the way that they have focused attention on issues like health-care reform or environmental regulations. At the same time, “to the extent that there are candidates that are working on these issues we care about,” Holden says, “we’re probably going to want to support candidates who are in favor of helping people, helping the disadvantaged with their policies.”

Compared to their spending on elections, the money the Kochs are funneling toward justice reform is modest. Their network plans to fork out nearly $900 million in advance of the 2016 election, according to reports—nearly as much as Barack Obama and Mitt Romney corralled in 2016 to support their campaigns. And Holden says there are no plans at the moment to increase the financial support for justice reform or form a new nonprofit devoted to the issue, although he wouldn’t rule it out. “It depends on what the opportunities are. If we see coalitions building and real change coming, and it’s consistent with our values and beliefs,” Holden says, “we’ll be all over it. We don’t necessarily start out saying we’re going to spend this much this year.”

And the momentum is building. “It’s not a left-right issue,” Holden says. “It’s all about what’s right for the country. There’s so much that everyone fights about, and there’s a commonality here.”

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: November 24

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. A bipartisan plan in North Carolina shrunk prison population and cut costs while the crime rate continued to fall. Can it serve as a model for other states?

By the Justice Center at the Council of State Governments

2. In international development, the massively scaleable transformative idea is usually too good to be true.

By Michael Hobbes in the New Republic

3. Net Neutrality could have a big impact on the future of healthcare, from telemedicine to electronic medical records.

By Darius Tahir in Modern Healthcare

4. Today’s renewable energy technologies won’t save us from climate change. We need new ideas.

By Ross Koningstein & David Fork in IEEE Spectrum

5. We must understand and counter the major trends fueling the ranks of Islamic radicals.

By Maha Yahya in the National Interest

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: October 29

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Community colleges should lead the way in preparing America’s workforce, and states need to join the effort.

By Matthew Dembicki in Community College Daily

2. To bring Asian-American communities to the ballot box, we must overcome cultural barriers, and that starts with language.

By Akiko Fujita at the World

3. We should be honoring, not quarantining, health care workers who put their lives at risk to fight Ebola abroad.

By by Jeffrey M. Drazen, Rupa Kanapathipillai, Edward W. Campion, Eric J. Rubin, Scott M. Hammer, Stephen Morrissey, Lindsey R. Baden at the New England Journal of Medicine

4. Prison officials should judge inmates by their actions, not the color of their skin.

By the Editorial Board of the Los Angeles Times

5. Deliberate efforts to welcome and nurture immigrant families can help reverse the trend of shrinking rural populations.

By the Rural Family Economic Success Action Network

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME the backstory

Photojournalism Daily: Oct. 15, 2014

Photojournalism Links is a compilation of the most interesting photojournalism found on the web, curated by Mikko Takkunen

Today’s daily Photojournalism Links collection highlights Birte Kaufmann‘s compelling photographs of Irish Travellers. The work, which looks at the everyday reality of one large family within the largest minority group in Ireland, was just awarded the 2014 Emerging Photographer Fund – Runner-Up Award by Burn magazine.


Birte Kaufmann: The Travellers (Burn Magazine)

Debi Cornwall: Guantánamo’s Surreal Prison Landscape (The New York Times Lens) Intriguing, unsettling photographs juxtaposing prisoners’ and soldiers’ facilities at the U.S. enclave in Cuba.

Chris McGrath: The Quiet Defiance of Hong Kong’s Slumbering Protestors (Wired Raw File) A different look at the pro-democracy demonstrators.

Sebastien Van Malleghem: Life Inside Belgian Prisons (TIME LightBox) The photographer received extraordinary access to the country’s prison system.

Majid Saeedi (The Eye of Photography) Interview with the 2014 FotoEvidence Book Award winner.

The truth of war: A room that was one’s own (The Age) Photographer Ashley Gilbertson talks about his Bedrooms of the Fallen work.


Photojournalism Links is a compilation of the most interesting photojournalism found on the web, curated by Mikko Takkunen, Associate Photo Editor at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @photojournalism.


TIME portfolio

A Cold Place, With No Curves: Life Inside Belgian Prisons

“My goal was to show the reality of these places, without the photographic clichés,” says Belgium photographer Sebastien Van Malleghem, who, for the past three years, has gained access to and photographed everyday life inside his own country’s prisons.

“These [penal] universes have been photographed many times before, but I was more interested in the psychological oppression created by these places,” Van Malleghem tells TIME. “Being locked up is a form of punishment, but once you’re inside you realize it’s just the beginning. There are many other forms of punishment—psychological and emotional ones. Once you’re in this box, they put you into another smaller box where your movements, your spirit and your ideas are confined.”

The 28-year-old photographer’s curiosity towards his country’s penal system came after four years spent following police officers for his Police project. “I wanted to start a story on justice and violence in Belgium, and I felt that the first step would be to follow the police.”

Van Malleghem readily admits that, as a younger man, he was attracted to this world of violence. It’s only after he finished that earlier project that he shifted his focus to another form of violence—namely, “a social violence; the one embodied in the relationship between a state, which is represented by these policemen and prison guards, and citizens. I wanted to see how a government sentences its own people.”

Gaining full access to these prisons, however, proved difficult. “It took me six to eight months to get permission from the Belgian government,” says Van Malleghem. “Once I received that general authorization, I still had to approach and convince prison directors to open their doors to me.”

Most prisons couldn’t afford to dedicate resources for Van Malleghem’s project beyond just a few hours. “I had to be followed by a guard,” he notes. But, in some cases, the photographer was able to spend up to three months in the same place. “For some directors, my work represented a way to raise awareness about the state of their prisons,” he adds. “With the economic and social crises, the Belgium government doesn’t really have the budget to help renovate these prisons, some of which were built in the 1800s.”

Once inside, Van Malleghem faced yet another hurdle: convincing inmates to let him photograph them. “In the beginning, it’s always a little bit tense,” he explains. “When you get in, people check you out. They try to define you. Are you working for the prison? Are you a psychological resource? What can you bring them? Are you a potential danger?”

All of these questions are asked with a stare. “They don’t say a word. It’s your role to come forward and explain the project, and when they realize that this work will really talk about them and the conditions they’re in, most of them welcome you. It’s like anywhere else: you have to break the ice once or twice, but when they realize that you keep on coming back, the ice has melted.”

At one point, Van Malleghem arranged to spend three days locked up in his own cell, in an attempt to understand how it really felt to be behind bars. “Everything is sanitized, everything is cold. You’re surrounded by grey concrete. It’s all straight lines and straight angles,” he tells TIME. “In fact, you never see something round. You never see curves. Everything is square. Everything is awful.”

For Van Malleghem, this environment is counter-productive to the process of rehabilitation. “I don’t think it helps reform these prisoners. On the contrary, I can understand, if you’re a young detainee, how this experience would foster a form of aggression toward an entire system.”


Sebastien Van Malleghem is a freelance photographer based in Belgium. His first photobook, Police, is available on his website.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent


TIME justice

The Surprising State Leading the U.S. in Prison Population Growth

Furniture Makers Prison
Jim Cole—AP A New Hampshire prison inmate works in the wood shop inside the prison in Concord, N.H., April 18, 2013.

Live free or be incarcerated

In the past two decades, New Hampshire’s crime rate has remained steady. It has one of the lowest violent crime rates in the U.S., and the state’s population has only grown by about a fifth.

But over that period, the number of state and federal inmates in New Hampshire has almost doubled. Its main prison in Concord is routinely overcrowded. And last year, the prison population grew at a faster rate than any other state in the country.

As the number of incarcerated Americans inched up for the first time in four years, the prison population in small, largely rural New Hampshire grew faster than any other state. The 8.2% increase in the Granite State topped second-place Nebraska’s 6.8% rise and far outpaced the 0.3% national increase in the number of inmates, according to figures released Sept. 16 by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Many state experts and public officials trace the rise not to a spike in crime or a recent population boom, but to the alteration of a bill initially designed to reduce New Hampshire’s prison population. In 2010, the state adopted a law that freed all inmates who had served 120% of their minimum sentence. If an inmate was sentenced to 5-10 years, for example, he or she would automatically be released by the sixth year. It also required prisoners to walk free when they were within nine months of their maximum sentence. Within a year of the law’s enactment, almost 300 prisoners were released as a result.

The bipartisan effort was meant to cut a prison population that had been growing for decades. According to the New Hampshire Department of Corrections, state prisoners increased from 287 in 1980 to 1,250 by 1990 and 2,847 by 2008. A policy called Truth in Sentencing, which reduced early releases for inmates based on good behavior, contributed to that growth. The Justice Reinvestment Act, as the 2010 law was known, undid many of those guidelines.

“It was a wholesale change to the department of corrections,” says Dennis Delay, an economist at the New Hampshire Center of Public Policy.

But the political timing was terrible. The law became effective in October 2010—one month before local elections—and it became an easy target for candidates seeking to look tough on crime, says Donna Sytek, chairman of the New Hampshire Adult Parole Board. It didn’t help that the first few inmates released under the program were violent criminals and rapists, raising the specter that dangerous people were being returned to the streets.

“It was initially embraced by everybody, Democrats and Republicans,” Sytek says. “But it became a political football.”

The following year, the state legislature effectively gutted the bill. Instead of mandatory release nine months before the end of a maximum sentence, for instance, inmates were now just granted a parole hearing. The state’s prison population has swelled ever since. In 2013, New Hampshire had 3,018 inmates.

Experts cite other factors contributing to the increase, such as the state’s gradual population growth and judges handing down stiffer sentences for drug crimes. But the change to the 2010 law appears to be the main culprit.

“I can tell you that many New Hampshire stakeholders are extremely concerned that the current prison population exceeds its capacity,” says Ted Kirkpatrick, a professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire. “I am uncertain, however, what will come out of that concern.”

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: August 13

1. True rehabilitation: We can reform prisons and reduce recidivism if we treat prison labor less like modern-day slavery and more like on-the-job training.

By Beth Schwartzapfel in American Prospect

2. Drones are a powerful military and civilian tool. Reforms are desperately needed if the U.S. wants to stay at the top of the drone food chain.

By Missy Cummings in Wired

3. Liberia’s fragile democracy may fall victim to the Ebola virus outbreak.

By Ashoka Mukpo in Al-Jazeera America

4. Mayors need the partnership and protection of a UN for big cities to test new solutions and spread innovation.

By Richard Florida in Citylab

5. The biggest barrier to nonprofit innovation isn’t the lack of money. It’s knowing the right way to scale up and spend big infusions of cash.

By Mathu Jeyaloganathan Ivey Business Review

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com