Rules on whether transgender prisoners go to male or female jails to be reviewed

Ministry of Justice says it will re-evaluate how transgender people are treated, after recent deaths of women in male prisons

The rules governing how transgender prisoners are treated – and whether they are sent to male or female prisons – are to be reviewed, the Ministry of Justice has announced.

The decision follows the deaths of two women in the past two months who had been sent to all-male jails.

Vicky Thompson, 21, was found dead in her cell in November at Armley, a category B men’s prison in Leeds. She had told friends she would kill herself if sent to a male prison.

Joanne Latham, 38, from Nottingham, died in Woodhill prison in Milton Keynes earlier this month after apparently taking her own life. She had been held in the close supervision centre (CSC) unit, reserved for the most dangerous and vulnerable prisoners.

In October, Tara Hudson, 26, succeeded in persuading the authorities to transfer her from the all-male HMP Bristol to Eastwood Park in Gloucestershire, a female prison.

The MoJ says it does not know how many transgender prisoners are being held in its jails. Announcing an expanded review of procedures, the justice minister Caroline Dinenage said: “Transgender adult prisoners are normally placed according to their legally recognised gender. However, we recognise that these situations are often complex and sensitive.

“That is why prisons exercise local discretion on the placement of those who live, or propose to live, in the gender other than the one assigned at birth. In such cases, senior prison management will review the individual circumstances, in consultation with medical and other experts.

“However, we have received a number of representations expressing concern that the present system doesn’t sufficiently address the needs of transgender prisoners.”

Dinenage said the regulations should find an “appropriate balance between the needs of the individual and the responsibility to manage risk and safeguard the wellbeing of all prisoners”.

The review will be coordinated by a senior MoJ official working with two independent advisers: Peter Dawson, the deputy director of the Prison Reform Trust and a former deputy governor of HMP Brixton, and Dr Jay Stewart, the director of Gendered Intelligence, an organisation promoting understanding of gender diversity. It is expected to complete its work early next year.

It will also look at the care and management of transgender offenders by the probation service.

“The usual practice is for [transgender prisoners] to be held in a supportive environment away from the main regime of the prison and protected from risk of harm from other prisoners,” the MoJ announcement said.

“The risk-assessed daily regime will be structured to enable the prisoner to have exercise and recreation and some measure of planned, supervised contact with other, trusted prisoners. Where relevant, clothing and toiletries are provided to enable the prisoner to present in their acquired gender, consistent with the arrangements set out in the instruction.

“Prisoners who are transitioning are entitled to live in the gender they seek to acquire. Prisons must produce a management care plan outlining how the individual will be managed safely and decently within the prison environment, with oversight from psychologists, healthcare professionals and prison staff.”

Legal gender is normally determined by an individual’s birth certificate although those seeking to change theirs may obtain a gender recognition certificate (GRC) to create an alternative legal gender.


Owen Bowcott Legal affairs correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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