Male Prison Inmates With Gender Dysphoria: When Is Sex Reassignment Surgery Appropriate?

Cynthia S. Osborne, Anne A. Lawrence

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Gender dysphoria (GD), a feeling of persistent discomfort with one’s biologic sex or assigned gender, is estimated to be more prevalent in male prison inmates than in nonincarcerated males; there may be 3000–4000 male inmates with GD in prisons in the United States. An increasing number of U.S. prison systems now offer gender dysphoric inmates diagnostic evaluation, psychotherapy, cross-sex hormone therapy, and opportunities, albeit limited, to enact their preferred gender role. Sex reassignment surgery (SRS), however, has not been offered to inmates except in response to litigation. In the first case of its kind, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation recently agreed to provide SRS to an inmate and developed policy guidelines for its future provision. In other recent cases, U.S. courts have ruled that male inmates with GD are entitled to SRS when it is medically necessary. Although these decisions may facilitate the provision of SRS to inmates in the future, many U.S. prison systems will probably remain reluctant to offer SRS unless legally compelled to do so. In this review, we address the medical necessity of SRS for male inmates with GD. We also discuss eligibility criteria and the practical considerations involved in providing SRS to inmates. We conclude by offering recommendations for physicians, mental health professionals, and prison administrators, designed to facilitate provision of SRS to inmates with GD in a manner that provides humane treatment, maximizes the likelihood of successful outcomes, minimizes risk of regret, and generates data that can help inform future decisions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1649-1663
Number of pages15
JournalArchives of Sexual Behavior
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 1 2016


  • Gender dysphoria
  • Medical necessity
  • Sex reassignment surgery
  • Standards of care
  • Transsexualism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychology(all)


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