Heated public opinion of transgender inmate sex change operation

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Public opinion is strongly against tax dollars being spent on a sex change for a Virginia prisoner.

Facebook exploded last night following our 12 On Your Side report about Ophelia De'lonta. A recurring comment: give her parole, and have her pay for her own surgery.

I reached out today to Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's office, Virginia D.O.C. and the parole board. Each office declined to go on camera, but responded in some way - enough to get the picture that the parole process may not be what you think.

The 52-year-old transgender female was just denied parole this past November. Incarcerated in 1983, Ophelia De'lonta - born Michael Stokes - is serving a 73-year prison sentence. Not all her time though is for the multiple bank robbery convictions.

Diane - "What if the parole board said, 'we're going to release you, De'lonta, and let you get your own surgery?'"

Ophelia - "If they parole me, I'm still going to be on parole. I'm still technically a ward of the state, and they still would have to give me the treatment."

I contacted the Virginia parole board for clarification - mainly because so many Facebook comments express concern about how taxpayers dollars are spent.

Chairman Bill Muse would not comment on De'lonta's case but says parolees are responsible for their own medical services once they leave prison walls.

On Facebook, Katie Shimel writes, "I do not believe tax dollars should be spent to give someone in jail a sex change. When you are out of jail, you can pay for your sex change."

Tonya Dunbar writes, "If they need surgery for a life-threatening health issue, that is something," but doesn't view De'lonta's disorder as a medical necessity.

The Virginia parole board says the process is not like the scene in Shawshank Redemption, where Morgan Freeman is questioned by a board.

A parole examiner questions the inmate and issues a report. It's all done electronically.

Virginia's five parole board members review the inmate's prison record and vote by computer. Legals cases have no bearing on their decision, says Muse.

De'lonta would have needed 3 out of 5 votes to have won parole. According to Virginia D.O.C. records, De'lonta was denied parole for her "extensive criminal record, poor institutional adjustment, a record of institutional infractions, not ready to conform to society," and they still consider De'lonta a risk to the community.

Ophelia De'lonta has filed paperwork for the board to reconsider her for parole.

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