April 2011 Archives

April 26, 2011

Sex-Change Surgery for Transgender Inmates?

Lyralisa Sevens is a California transgender prison inmate.  Stevens was born a male but identifies as female. California provides Stevens with hormone replacement therapy, but Stevens is housed with male prisoners because Stevens' male genitalia is intact.  Stevens has sued the state, asking a court to order the state to pay for a sex-change surgery that will result in Stevens' transfer to a female prison.

Stevens claims that a male prison is a dangerous place for an inmate with feminine deportment and breasts. That's probably true.  But judges cannot justify ordering a cash-strapped state to pay many thousands of dollars for a convicted murder's non-emergency surgery. 

The state should take reasonable steps to keep Stevens safe from other prisoners. But at a time when California has had to cut back severely on support for education and social services, an order that Stevens (and undoubtedly hundreds of other prison inmates) is entitled to a sex-change operation would be unconscionable.   

April 21, 2011

Christian Longo's Plea: "After you execute me, please harvest my organs."

Christian Longo is on Oregon's death row, convicted of brutally murdering his wife and three small children.  A healthy man aged 37, Longo has made an interesting humanitarian proposal.  He will drop his appeal of the death sentence.  This will save the state a lot of money. He will also agree to donation of his healthy organs after he is executed.  Since Oregon has waiting lists of people desperate for organ transplants, Longo's proposal could save many lives.

"Yes" to Longo's proposal sounds like a no-brainer.  It sure would to me if I were in need of a transplant.  But Oregon and most states are totally opposed.  Jeffrey Orlowski, executive director of the non-profit Association of Organ Procurement Organizations, is worried about taking advantage of people like Longo: "As a country, we have a high ethical and moral standard that we shouldn't do things to people no matter how disadvantaged they are." What?  Our country's high moral standards allow for executions, but not for organ donations?  Give me a break!

Undoubtedly practical problems exist when carrying out death row inmates' wishes to become organ donors after death.  But moral and ethical problems?  Much better to find a way to provide for "Oregon" transplants!

April 19, 2011

Rehabilitive Sentencing

The US Supreme Court will shortly decide whether a federal judge can lengthen a prison sentence for the purpose of giving a prisoner time to complete a prison drug rehabilitation program.  The case involves Alejandra Tapia, who was convicted of crimes involving drugs and alien smuggling.  The judge gave Tapia a longer-than-usual sentence (though still within statuory limits) in the hope that she would enroll in a prison drug rehabilitation program.  Tapia is challenging the sentence, claiming that the relevant statute, 18 USC Sec. 3582, forbids judges from considering rehabilitative programs when deciding on the length of prison sentences.    

Tapia argues that Congress did not want to use prison sentences to coerce prisoners to participate in rehabilitation programs.  And in fact Tapia refused to partiicpate in a rehabilitation program.  That's sad but hardly surprising: the same thinking that led her into prison in the first place seemingly continues to control her actions.

If the Court upholds Tapia's challenge, perhaps the only effect will be to make sentencing judges more circumspect.  Tapia's sentencing judge indicated that he was lengthening her sentence to give her a chance to enroll in a rehabilitation program.  Had the judge said, "I'm giving you the maximum sentence in order to protect society," that sentence would not violate Sec. 3582.  

At the end of the day, rehabilitation programs probably work best when people are willing and committed to changing their lives.  Hopefully, inmates like Alejandra Tapia will come to view a prison term as an opportunity to enroll in a rehabilitation program or participate in a program like AA or CGA (Criminals and Gang Members Anonymous).  If not, prisons will continue to be revolving doors for many people.