Saturday, November 8, 2003

Male inmate passed as woman for months

Exam confirms gender; prisoner moved

By Tom Loftus
The Courier-Journal

FRANKFORT - You could call it a case of mistaken sexual identity.

An inmate at the Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women was moved to an isolation cell Monday after the prisoner said he is a man and a physical examination verified it.

Billie Jo Hawks, 43, of Battletown, had been admitted to the women's prison near Pewee Valley on Oct.22 and was housed in a dorm with female inmates. For eight months before that, Hawks was held in the women's section of the Meade County Detention Center on convictions of first-degree trafficking in a controlled substance and cultivating marijuana.

Lisa Lamb, spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections, said she was prohibited by federal law protecting the privacy of health information from disclosing details about the physical exam of Hawks on Monday.

Lamb said Hawks was placed in a segregation cell pending a decision on a permanent assignment. Lamb said Hawks declined a request for an interview.

All inmates are subject to a thorough strip search as part of the admission process to any state prison to ensure no contraband is brought into prison, Lamb said. As for how Hawks' organ went unnoticed earlier, Lamb said, "All we can say for now is that clearly procedures were not followed in the admission of this inmate."

Lamb said corrections officials are investigating the matter for possible disciplinary action against personnel involved in searching and admitting Hawks to the prison.

The physical examination on Monday was conducted as part of a policy that all inmates receive such an exam within two weeks of admission. Lamb said that before the examination, Hawks told the nurse practitioner conducting it that he is a man. Lamb said the exam confirmed that Hawks has a penis.

Meade County Jailer Troy Seelye said Friday he was surprised when told by state corrections officials this week of the discovery. "This inmate was sentenced as a female and booked in as a female. We never had any reason to even suspect otherwise," Seelye said.

Seelye said his jail's procedure is to search new inmates "down to their undergarments" in most cases. A thorough strip search was not done in Hawks' case because such searches are done only when there is some suspicion that an inmate is bringing contraband into the jail, he said.

Seelye said Hawks was held in a cell with many women during the eight months in his jail. Not once did other inmates or jail employees express suspicion about Hawks' gender or have any complaint about Hawks, he said. "We had no problems at all with this inmate," he said.

Richard Tewksbury, a professor of justice administration at the University of Louisville, said, "In my research I've known many a person who has successfully passed as a sex different than what everyone assumed they were in free society."

"The issue of sexuality is a complex one," he said.

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