Late transgender prisoner complained of bullying by guards, inquest hears

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An inquest has heard that a trans woman prisoner had complained of bullying from guards while in an all-male prison.

Jenny Swift, 49, was found dead in her cell at HMP Doncaster on 30 December 2016.

An inquest heard that Swift backed out of a suicide pact with three other prisoners made over alleged bullying by guards.

Doncaster’s coroner was on Monday told by fellow inmate Paris Clarke that they had both backed out of the suicide pact because it “wasn’t a good idea”.

Clarke said: “Some of us were being bullied by members of staff and no one was listening to us, so we made a pact of suicide.”

Clarke said that Swift seemed “upbeat” on the night she was found dead, that she “had plans” and talked about wanting to get married.

“She was funny and everything. She mentioned her kid, she mentioned about living life to the full. She gave everybody a cuddle that night, like she did most nights. She was just happy and said she would see us in the morning,” said Clarke.

Clarke has now been transferred to HMP New Hall, an all-female facility in West Yorkshire.

“No. You never really saw her down. If she was upset she was angry but … she would never show her upset side,” she added when asked whether she thought Swift would take her own life.

The barrister for Serco, which runs HMP Doncaster, Barney Branston, suggested that the “bullying” mentioned by Clarke could just ben staff members being “robust”.

Clarke replied: “I get that but I still saw the way she [the prison officer] was as bullying. In my view she wasn’t very professional.”

According to Clarke, she knew that Swift had previously tried to kill herself and had ben placed on suicide watch.

Another prisoner, John Parton, told the court that “one or two” officers at the prison had called Swift “fella”.

Parton gave a written statement, saying: “The guards used to treat her well but one or two used to call her fella, which would piss her off big time. She used to shout off the balcony: ‘I’m Jenny Swift, not Jonathan.’

The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman last year recommended reforms on trans issues following a string of deaths of trans prisoners.

The UK government had promised a review in 2015 of the way trans people in prisons are dealt with, after two female prisoners died within weeks of each other while being held in all-male facilities.

The review finished in November, with the Ministry of Justice introducing ‘safeguards’ to ensure that transgender people would not be put at risk in prisons inconsistent with their gender.

The issue became more urgent this month – after the death of a further transgender prisoner, Jenny Swift, inside an all-male facility. The probe into her death is still ongoing.

The independent  Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, Nigel Newcomen, said today: “My office has historically received few complaints from prisoners identifying themselves as transgender, and, fortunately, has investigated relatively few deaths of transgender individuals in custody. However, more recently, these numbers have been climbing.

“Last year, in quick succession, two transgender women tragically took their own lives while in custody. A third transgender woman is thought to have taken her own life in November 2016, and a fourth in December 2016.

“Prisons are always difficult environments, never more so than in recent months, but they have a fundamental responsibility to keep prisoners safe and to protect and support those with particular vulnerabilities. Transgender prisoners are among the most vulnerable, with evident risks of suicide and self harm, as well as facing bullying and harassment.”

He issued a bulletin highlighting the need for a flexible system that evaluates “the location of a transgender prisoner based on an individual assessment of their needs, considering the possibility of them residing in the estate of their acquired gender”.

It adds that officers must make “reasonable adjustments” for trans prisoners “to help them to live in their gender role”, and must “meaningfully investigate all allegations of transphobic bullying and harassment and taking steps taken to challenge and prevent it”.

The inquest continues.

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