Transgender Inmates – What are the Key Issues?

This year, transgender inmate Tara Hudson hit the headlines, due to her incarceration in a male prison, HMP Bristol. During her time there, she claimed that she endured taunts from other prisoners, plus felt she had to flash at male inmates to avoid being raped.

Thanks to an extensive campaign, Hudson was released and placed in HMP Eastwood Park, a female-only prison. On her release, she told the press that she felt she had been ‘punished doubly – or more’. In spite of her treatment, however, it looks as though she may have been one of the more fortunate ones. Only two weeks previously, Vikki Thompson and Joanne Latham, both transgender women, had committed suicide in their cells – in male prisons.

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The Key Issues

For the government, sentencing transgender criminals can be a complex issue.

  1. The Gender Recognition Certificate. In 2005, a law was passed, enabling transgender people to legally change their gender – giving them all rights associated with their new identity – including birth certificate change and marital rights. The number of people with this certificate in the UK is relatively small – last year, it was only 75 in total.

Requiring transgender inmates to have this certification is problematic. For example, Tara Hudson didn’t have a certificate, because she hadn’t completed gender reassignment surgery. However, she had been living as a woman all her adult life. The lack of certificate meant she was placed in a male prison.

  1. Discrimination. Regrettably, many transgender people experience prejudice from others – and this is the same in prison as it is in everyday life. Inside, transgender inmates are unable to escape bullying from others, which can cause them to experience higher levels of depression and isolation.
  2. Lack of voice for transgender prisoners. There hasn’t, as yet, been any official exploration into the number of transgender people living in the UK – though it is estimated that as many as 300,000 to 500,000 may ‘experience some degree of gender variance’. Due perhaps to the fact that exact figures are still unknown, transgender inmates are not well represented in prison. There are no defined support groups for transgender inmates, and generally speaking, no allowances made for their gender. This, as you might imagine, could prove particularly difficult for an inmate who identifies themselves as being one sex – being incarcerated solely with people of another sex.

What’s Changed in Prisons?

After Hudson’s campaign, the government promised to look into the current situation for transgender inmates in the UK, with the intention of reviewing established practices. This is especially welcome news, considering the suicides of two transgender inmates in recent months.

Vikki Thompson, only 21 when she hung herself in her cell in HMP Leeds, had already stated that she would kill herself if sent to a men’s prison. Had her requests been listened to, she may not have done so.

Inmates as Individuals

All inmates are individuals – and effective sentencing for one may not be effective for another. Certainly this is the case with transgender prisoners – for whom being imprisoned with people of a different gender is clearly not an effective strategy.

We hope that the government acknowledges that not all inmates can be sentenced in the same way – and that in certain instances, discretion needs to be used.

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