RICHMOND, Va. —
A Virginia prison inmate who has asked a federal judge to force the state to pay for a sex-change operation has been granted parole, the chairman of the Virginia Parole Board said Thursday.
Ophelia De’Lonta remains in custody at Buckingham Correctional Center pending approval of her home plan and conditions of release, board chairman William Muse said in a telephone interview. He said that can take 45 days or longer.
Muse said he personally delivered a letter granting parole to De’Lonta on Dec. 19.
“She was excited, as most offenders are when they see they’re getting released,” Muse said.
De’Lonta, born Michael A. Stokes, has served 34 years of a 73-year sentence for robbery. The 53-year-old De’Lonta has been diagnosed with a severe form of gender identity disorder, a medically recognized illness in which people believe they were born the wrong gender. Her desire for a sex-change operation has prompted several attempts at self-castration.
In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Roanoke in 2011, De’Lonta claimed that the state has failed its duty to provide adequate medical care because it won’t provide the surgery. Her lawyers have said the surgery could be done for about $20,000. The lawsuit remains active.
Muse said the possibility of a court forcing the state to pay for an inmate’s sex-change operation was not a factor in the parole decision.
“It was not part of our thinking,” he said. “We specifically did not coordinate anything with the Department of Corrections or the attorney general’s office. We wanted to keep it purely a parole call.”
Muse said De’Lonta has maintained a good record in prison the past few years. He said he does not ordinarily deliver parole letters personally, but he did so in De’Lonta’s case “just because I’ve known her a long time.”
De’Lonta’s attorney, Alan Schoenfeld, declined to comment on his client’s parole and the effect it might have on the lawsuit.
In her lawsuit, De’Lonta claims that denying her sex-change operation violates her Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment.
U.S. District Judge James C. Turk previously dismissed De’Lonta’s lawsuit, ruling that the state prison system was adequately treating her by providing psychological counseling and hormone treatments and allowing her to dress as a woman in a men’s prison. A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last January sent the case back to Turk for reconsideration.