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Federal judge rules inmate convicted of sexually assaulting child should get gender reassignment surgery on taxpayer dime


'... she has waited long enough'

Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

A federal judge ruled last week that taxpayers are responsible for funding the gender reassignment surgery of a transgender inmate spending decades in federal prison after being convicted of sexually assaulting his own daughter.

What are the details?

Mark Campbell — who now identifies as "Nicole" — began serving a 34-year prison sentence in 2007 after he was convicted of sexually assaulting his 10-year-old daughter.

According to the criminal complaint against Campbell, the child victim told police that Campbell "had sex with her, masturbated in front of her, used various sex toys with her, and exposed her to DVD and video porn movies and magazines."

Nicole Campbell, formally Mark Campbell. (Image source: Wisconsin Department of Corrections)

In 2013, Campbell began to seek gender reassignment surgery, claiming he experienced "gender dysphoria." But the Wisconsin Department of Corrections denied the request, which Campbell's advocates said amounted to cruel and unusual punishment, a violation of Campbell's Eighth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution.

Still, the prison system allowed Campbell certain privileges not extended to other inmates. Campbell was given hormone treatment and is allowed to wear women's clothing despite being locked inside a men's prison.

However, following a three-day bench trial in March, U.S. District Judge James Peterson ruled earlier this month that Campbell should receive the surgery.

"The rights of transgender persons and sex reassignment surgery remain politically controversial, even outside the prison context," Peterson said. "And some members of the public are outraged at any effort to improve the health and well being of inmates. But the true public interest lies in alleviating needless suffering by those who are dependent on the government for their care."

According to Peterson, Campbell suffers from "the most severe form of gender dysphoria, in which the presence of male genitalia on her body causes particularly severe anguish," the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

In fact, Peterson agreed that the Department of Corrections had violated Campbell's constitutional rights because of Campbell's severe gender dysphoria and the fact Campbell is a responsibility of the state while imprisoned.

Because there is only one surgeon qualified to perform gender reassignment surgery in Wisconsin, Peterson said it may be up to one year before Campbell receives the surgery. Peterson said Campbell should be moved to Taycheedah Correctional Institution, a women's prison, in the meantime.

"I decline to impose any further prerequisites on Campbell's sex reassignment surgery; she has waited long enough," Peterson said.

Peterson, however, did not grant all of Campbell's requests. He denied the requests for breast augmentation, voice therapy, and electrolysis.

What the reaction?

According to Wisconsin Public Radio, the state Department of Corrections has declined to comment. However, Campbell's lawyers celebrated the decision.

"She has done everything she can within the confines of the male prison," attorney Tom Heneghan explained, WPR reported. "She was allowed to purchase feminine eyewear, she could wear feminine undergarments, they provided her with hormone therapy. But they drew the line and said, 'No prisoner in Wisconsin will ever be allowed this kind of surgery.' It wasn't even an assessment of her situation."

Heneghan added of Campbell's move to a women's prison, "She assumes, and probably correctly, her life will be easier there, because she will be with other women."

Campbell will become the first Wisconsin inmate to receive gender reassignment surgery while in custody.

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