Judge accuses Bureau of Prisons of playing ‘whack-a-mole,’ threatens fines in gender-affirming surgery case of former Illinois inmate

Cristina Nichole Iglesias has been trying for years to get the surgery. She’s set to be released from prison later this year.

SHARE Judge accuses Bureau of Prisons of playing ‘whack-a-mole,’ threatens fines in gender-affirming surgery case of former Illinois inmate
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A U.S. District judge has accused the U.S. Bureau of Prisons of playing “whack-a-mole” in the case of a former Illinois inmate seeking gender confirmation surgery before her release from custody later this year.

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A federal judge overseeing a former Illinois inmate’s struggle to have gender-affirming surgery has accused the U.S. Bureau of Prisons of treating the case like a game of “whack-a-mole” and is threatening the agency with fines.

“Throughout this litigation, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has employed tactics similar to the game of Plinko on ‘The Price is Right.’ BOP was warned for employing these tactics, and it apologized,” U.S. District Chief Judge Nancy J. Rosenstengel of the Southern District of Illinois wrote in a memo and order filed this week. “Now BOP’s tactics are turning into a game of ‘whack-a-mole.’ Indeed, it appeared the last of BOP’s moles had been ‘whacked.’ Then another one ‘popped up.’”

Cristina Nichole Iglesias, who was born with male genitals, has been trying for years to persuade the bureau to approve her surgery. She filed a lawsuit while she was housed in the federal prison in downstate Marion in 2019.

According to that lawsuit, at age 12, Iglesias told her mother she wanted to live as a girl. In 2009, she tried to castrate herself, the suit states.

Iglesias has been in federal custody since 1994, currently in a halfway house in Florida, convicted of threatening to use a weapon of mass destruction.

Iglesias thought she’d moved a step closer to having the surgery after Rosenstengel late last year ordered the Bureau of Prisons to have its transgender council meet to consider Iglesias’ request by Jan. 24. But that deadline passed without word about a decision.

Rosenstengel said in this week’s memo that it’s clear the council did not evaluate Iglesias’ request by her deadline. And when the Bureau of Prisons finally referred Iglesias to a surgeon earlier this month, the surgeon explained that he doesn’t perform the procedure Iglesias is seeking, Rostenstengel wrote.

So now, Rosenstengel is threatening the BOP with fines and has ordered weekly updates and a detailed plan to make sure that Iglesias gets the surgery before her expected release in December.

The Bureau of Prisons declined to comment.

“I am hopeful that I will finally get the care I need to live my life fully as the woman I am,” Iglesias said in a statement. “BOP has denied me gender-affirming surgery for years — and keeps raising new excuses and putting new obstacles in my way. I am grateful that the court recognized the urgency of my case and ordered BOP to act.”

Ed Yohnka, a spokesperson for ACLU of Illinois, which is representing Iglesias, said Wednesday his organization now sees reason for optimism.

“We are hopeful that the court — taking this strong stand [and] putting people on the stand, putting people under the gun and actually holding them accountable — will now move this forward,” Yohnka said. “Everybody agrees that Cristina should have this surgery. It’s just a matter of getting it done.”

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