DOC medical director hopes to educate staff on transgender issues following new policy

Iowa Department of Corrections medical director Dr. Harbans Deol knows his department's work is far from done, but is proud to see a starting point.

"I think it's a challenging and exciting time," he said.

He's referring to the new gender dysphoria policy that applies to inmates. One area of this new policy, is that staff will use the pronoun an inmate wishes to go by.

"Whether it is "he," "she" or "ze", we'll be asking them what pronoun they prefer," Deol said.

"Ze" is the non-gender specific pronoun used instead of "he" or "she."

Deol says staff will track all previous medical records for inmates and hormone therapy will also be available for any transgender inmate who wants the treatment.

But because there could be irreversible side effects following the treatment, Deol says medical staff will bring in an expert on transgender health issues.

"So we obtain a consultation with them, to make sure this is what they want," Deol said.

There will be a protocol drafted for the prison's medical staff to use and a consent from will be obtained from the inmate. Deol says these steps are in place to make sure each inmate who is deciding on hormonal therapy knows about the medical side effects.

Hormonal therapy costs about $30 a month.

"We'll be able to monitor side effects, we'll be able to monitor progress and we'll also be able to provide some counseling for them," Deol said.

A psychologist will meet with the inmate once a month and a psychiatrist will meet with them about every four months, Deol said, or anytime sooner if needed.

"If they have gone through these physiological changes, do we really continue to keep them in (male or female) prison or not or do we transfer them to a (male or female) prison? I think time will tell and I think my inclination is that we'll probably be able to accommodate that," Deol said.

The new policy also addresses housing and clothing requests for transgender and intersex inmates. Deol says, for example, the clothing offered inside a men's facility will be offered in a women's facility if the inmate identifies as male.

With this new policy, Deol says it will be a learning experience for all staff and the prison population and it will take time to adjust.

"The basic concept of addressing somebody to the pronoun they want is a great learning experience and I think Iowa is making great strides in this arena," Deol said.

He knows inmates will have different requests and medical needs and says the department's next steps will be to strive towards educating staff on these issues. Deol says the when moving forward, staff will have to focus on safety, addressing mental health needs and making inmates feel comfortable is necessary.

"We probably will do an education process for all the staff," he said. "We had talked about last week to develop an e-learning module where we can talk about what transgender means and what do we do and what the expectations are."

Deol says "only time will tell" when it comes to finding out any necessary adjustments that will have to possibly be made to the policy.

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