Justice secretary announces new restrictions for transgender inmates in women’s prisons

A screenshot of Brandon Lewis, Secretary of State for Justice

The new justice secretary wants to block trans women from women’s prisons if they’ve not undergone gender-affirming bottom surgery.

Brandon Lewis announced on Wednesday (12 October) he plans to bring forward the new policy later this year. 

“Under the reforms, transgender prisoners with male genitalia should no longer be held in the general women’s estate,” Lewis said in a parliamentary statement.

“This will not be a blanket rule; exemptions to these new rules will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

“This will also apply to transgender women who have been convicted of a sex offence.”

Government data shows there are currently fewer than three transgender women in women’s prisons in England and Wales.

The same data found the majority of trans women inmates are being held in male prisons, with 145 trans women and nine non-binary being detained. 

The Independent reports that in the past decade several trans women have died by suicide in male prisons.

‘Specialist cells’

At the 2022 Conservative party conference, Lewis said it was “not right that transgender prisoners, when convicted of serious sexual offences or those who have not had reassignment surgery, are housed in the general women’s prison estate”.

The new justice secretary vowed that “this will end” and claimed there had been sex attacks and inappropriate relationships involving trans inmates in recent years, but he failed to provide any examples of the incidents he referred to.

The case of trans prisoner Karen White, who sexually assaulted women in female prison, is frequently used to support anti-trans narratives around women’s prisons. However, data presenting the reality of trans inmates being assaulted while incarcerated shows trans prisoners are at huge risk of sexual assault.

Figures from the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) covering trans female inmates showed that 11 trans prisoners were sexually assaulted in jails in England and Wales in 2019.

The total number of trans victims far exceeds the number who were suspected of carrying out sex attacks, with only one such case in that same year, the BBC reported.

Previously the MOJ flatly denied claims made by former prisons minister Rory Stewart that trans prisoners were “raping female prison staff”.

Lewis suggested the use of “specialist cells” could be increased to “further protect women in prison”.

LGBT+ anti-abuse charity, Galop, has said transphobic narratives stirred up by the media and senior politicians have been allowed to grow without challenge and were translating into “violence against our community”.

Trans prisoners ‘must be allowed to express their gender’

In 2021 High Court judges found the current policy of housing trans women in female jails is lawful, after a female inmate, who said she had been sexually assaulted by a trans inmate convicted for serious sexual offences, launched a challenge.

A 2016 policy review guidance for prisons in England and Wales states that “all transgender prisoners (irrespective of prison location) must be allowed to express the gender with which they identify”.

This policy enables prisoners to express their views on where they should be held, with decisions to locate them in their jail of choice being left to a Transgender Case Board. 

The announcement comes days after released government statistics showed that police-recorded hate crimes committed against trans people had rocketed by 56 per cent in a year.

According to the data, there were more than 4,350 trans hate crimes in the year ending March 2022.

PinkNews has reached out to Lewis for comment.