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Transgender prison inmate seeking sex-reassignment surgery will be released

Transgender prison inmate seeking sex-reassignment surgery will be released
Michelle Norsworthy at a parole hearing in May. (Steve Yeater / Associated Press)

California has agreed to pay for the sex-reassignment operation of a transgender inmate who said the surgery was medically necessary.

The settlement agreement was reached Friday even as the inmate whose court victory had paved the way for such taxpayer-paid surgery learned she will not get it but be released from prison instead.

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Gov. Jerry Brown's office announced Friday evening that the governor would allow inmate Michelle Norsworthy, 51, to be paroled without action by him. Lawyers for the state immediately filed legal papers seeking to drop the state's appeal of the order to pay for Norsworthy's surgery, saying the issue was now "moot."

Within minutes, the corrections department released copies of a settlement agreement reached with lawyers for Shiloh Heavenly Quine, the preferred name for inmate Rodney James Quine. That document shows that medical experts determined sex-reassignment surgery is a medical necessity for Quine. Without admitting wrongdoing, the state has agreed to negotiate a contract with a surgical practice to perform the operation "as promptly as possible."

After recovery from successful surgery, Quine would be moved to a women's prison, according to the settlement.

The state has knowingly moved only one sex-reassigned male prisoner into women's housing. That inmate was reclassified as female after he castrated himself. Six years later, state corrections officials consider her location too sensitive to post publicly.

A federal judge in April had ruled that sex-reassignment surgery for Norsworthy was medically necessary, a position the state continued to argue against. After previous rejections, a parole board in May decided Norsworthy was ready for release. That same day, a federal appeals court granted the state's motion to delay Norsworthy's surgery while the state pursued its legal challenges.

As Jeffrey Norsworthy, she was convicted in 1987 for killing a man, Franklin Liefer Jr., at an Orange County bar two years before that. She was sentenced to 17 years to life and has been eligible for parole since 1998. Transcripts of her parole hearings show she was raped in 2009, a turning point Norsworthy said that led to her work in prison as an advocate for rape-prevention policies.

She told a parole board in May that if released she intends to work within the transgender community in San Francisco.

"My ride in prison hasn't been the easiest," she said during her May hearing. "I've learned a lot about being a victim… which made it possible for me to understand what I've done when I victimized other people."

The Orange County district attorney's office opposed her release, arguing that Norsworthy still posed a danger to society.

After it receives official confirmation of the governor's decision to neither affirm nor reverse Norsworthy's parole, the state corrections department has five days to process her release, said corrections spokesman Jeffrey Callison.

Twitter:@paigestjohn

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