There have been a shocking amount of deaths and tales of abuse thanks to the fact that transgender women are still being sent to male prisons. Just the other day, we had reports of yet another trans woman being found dead in a male prison.
In light of the recent deaths of transgender women in male prisons, a watchdog has called for action. The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman called for prisons to be more flexible and proactive when dealing with these prisoners.
Ombudsman Nigel Newcomen said that while he and his office have investigated relatively few deaths and complaints in this matter, the numbers are rising.
He has issued a list of lessons that could be learned from the investigations into the 33 complaints five deaths that took place between 2008 and August 2016.
His recommendations are as follows:
• Where a transgender prisoner is sent should be based on an individual assessment of their needs and the possibility of them being with their acquired gender
• All relevant people involved in a transgender prisoner’s care to attend Assessment, Care in Custody, and Teamwork case reviews (for those deemed at risk of suicide or self-harm)
• All allegations of transphobic bullying and harassment to be investigated and steps taken to challenge and prevent it
• Personal officers to have regular and meaningful contact with transgender prisoners
• Policies to be in line with national guidance and no unfair additional restrictions
• Reasonable adjustments to be made for transgender prisoners to help them to live in their gender role
Mr Newcomen said: “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.”
The recent death of Jenny Swift in HMP Doncaster comes pretty swiftly on the heels of attempts by the Ministry of Justice to ensure that the “great majority” of transgender people are dealt with appropriately, according to their gender identity.
Andrew Neilson, the director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “We have seen a number of transgender deaths in prisons, which prompted a recent review by the Ministry of Justice into how transgender prisoners and their needs can best be met.
“Investigations into this latest death will no doubt look at how Jenny Swift was placed in custody and whether Doncaster as a men’s prison was the right place for her to be. While transgender people may have particular vulnerabilities, we should bear in mind that suicide and self-injury affect all prisoners.”
“Last year saw the highest number of suicides in prison on record, at a rate of one prisoner every three days. There are broader issues around overcrowding, understaffing and an impoverishment of prison regimes which must also be addressed.”