Trans inmates must be ‘adequately protected’ in jail, say campaigners

Prisons watchdog slams "inhumane treatment" of transgender women

Campaigners have said the government must ensure trans inmates are “adequately protected” in UK jails, as the government carries out a review of its policy for trans prisoners.

Members of LGBT+ community have spoken out, calling for trans and cisgender prisoners to be treated equally, after The Sunday Times reported that the government is reviewing its policy for where trans inmates should be held.

Speaking to PinkNews, the Ministry of Justice said that, as it stands, inmates are remanded in custody in accordance with their “legally recognised gender unless there are exceptional circumstances.”

If an inmate does not self-identify with their legal gender, the Ministry of Justice continued, then a Transgender Case Board is held to “decide upon the location” of where the individual is to be imprisoned.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson told PinkNews that its “review is ongoing and no final decisions have been made.”

“The safety of all prisoners is our absolute priority and we are clear that all offenders must be managed sensitively and in line with the law,” added the spokesperson.

The spokesperson said that following the case of trans woman Karen White, a convicted sex offender, who sexually assaulted two women in an all-female prison, it “made the difficult decision” to move a “small number” of trans women prisoners into male jails “where the risk they pose can be more safely managed.”

The spokesperson continued: “We are carefully reviewing our policy in this area so that it strikes the right balance between protecting transgender prisoners and their rights, and the safety and wellbeing of all prisoners, including some extremely vulnerable women.”

Government must ensure safety of trans prisoners, say campaigners

The UK’s national press widely reported on White’s case, who was transferred to the all-female New Hall prison in West Yorkshire in September 2017, where she sexually abused two women during a three-month prison.

Speaking to PinkNews non-binary filmmaker Ugla Stefania, better known as Owl, said that anti-trans press coverage has led to trans prisoners becoming a source of “obsession among certain groups that would rather trans women were all put into men’s prison.”

“That’s not a viable solution, as we know that trans women are incredibly vulnerable in men’s prison and their safety is immediately put at risk,” added Owl.

Owl added that any prisoner, “whether she be cis or trans,” should “not be housed with other women if she is deemed a danger to her fellow prisoners.”

“Risk assessments therefore need to be made adequately, and unfortunately in the case of Karen White this wasn’t done properly,” continued Owl.

“But to use this case to advocate against all trans women is clearly selective and opportunist, and it is of no surprise that anti-trans groups use such cases relentlessly.”

“Any woman who is a prisoner, whether she be cis or trans, should not be housed with other women if she is deemed a danger to her fellow prisoners.”

—Filmmaker Owl

According to The Sunday Times, there were 139 trans and non-binary prisoners in prisons in England and Wales in 2018.

As of the end May 2018, government statistics stated there were 83,430 inmates in prisons in England and Wales.

Owl said prisons must review all cases on an “individual basis,” adding: “Trans women that pose no threat to other women based on an adequate risk assessment should of course be placed in a women’s prison just like other women.

“Those women that are placed into men’s prison due to issues of safety need to be adequately protected and measurements put in place to protect their safety and well-being.”

A prison where a trans inmate could be held

A shadow is cast of a cell door of HMP Berwyn on March 15, 2017 in Wrexham, Wales. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

In 2015, there was a national outcry when trans woman Tara Hudson was incarcerated in a men’s prison in Bristol.

A public petition to get Hudson moved to a women’s prison gathered more than 150,000 signatures.

Her case prompted the Ministry of Justice to review the guidelines in place for trans prisoners, leading to the introduction of the current policy in January 2017.

It was revealed in January 2018 that Hudson is suing the Ministry of Justice for damages, alleging that her treatment in the all-male prison was “intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating and offensive.”

Sarah Brown, a member of Stonewalls trans advisory group, told PinkNews that the Ministry of Justice “should be acting in response to evidence,” but added that the timing of its review “will make many trans people worried that this is in response to press hate against trans people.”

She continued: “There should be no special treatment: trans and cis women should be treated the same way by the prison service and placed according to individual assessment.

“Trans women should not be placed at risk of violent attacks and rape in men’s prisons as a response to grubby transphobic newspaper headlines.”

“It’s time people stopped scaremongering about trans people and remembered that we are, first and foremost, people.”

—Helen Belcher, co-founder of Trans Media Watch

In 2015, two trans women died by suicide in the space of two months while being held in male prisons in the UK.

Two trans women die by suicide within two months in male prisons

Inquests were held following the deaths of Vikki Thompson at HMP Leeds, and Joanne Latham at HMP Woodhill in Milton Keynes, in November and December 2015 respectively.

Helen Belcher, co-founder of charity Trans Media Watch, which works to improve the press coverage of trans issues, told PinkNews that the “government will need evidence in order to change the [current] guidelines, as they were introduced after a number of trans women were attacked or died in male prisons in 2015 or 16.”

She said that the review “is not concerning, and is usual for new policies.”

Belcher also highlighted that anti-trans media coverage, including false reports that child murderer Ian Huntley is trans, which the Daily Star recently had to print a correction over, contributed to “myths around trans prisoners.”

She added: “This made-up story has underpinned many other stories misrepresenting trans people for over two years.

“It’s time people stopped scaremongering about trans people and remembered that we are, first and foremost, people.”