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UK: Prison officials concerned inmates may be identifying as transgender for ‘a soft life’

Ashley Chhibber July 28, 2014
Gay prisoner: File photo of a prisoner.

File photo of a prisoner. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Prison officials have reportedly expressed concerns that prisoners may be falsely declaring themselves transgender, out of a belief that they will be given access to privileges and separate facilities, and have prompted a review of current policy.

According to a report in the Sunday Times, up to 100 prisoners across the UK have told prison authorities that they identify as transgender but have not been officially diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

This follows new rules introduced in 2011 which remove the need for professional diagnosis, leaving self-identification as transgender as the only criterion. When the policy was introduced, trans rights campaigners estimated that UK prisons contain 20 to 30 transgender inmates at any one time.

Although these rules are ostensibly designed to make it easier to aid transgender individuals to transition while in prison, prison officials are worried that inmates believe that identifying as transgender results in “a soft life”.

Glyn Travis, a press officer at the Prison Officers Association (POA), told The Sunday Times: “The numbers [of inmates who identify as transgender] have increased since this policy [removing the need for medical diagnosis] because, although some are genuinely gender dysphoric, others are looking at it as a soft option for prison life.”

Transgender inmates in UK prisons can be given the right to use private washing facilities and changing rooms and to be searched only by female officers. Some perceive there is also a greater likelihood of obtaining parole.

The increase has also lead to a rise in complaints, legal cases and disciplinary action against prisons. The report cites the example of Kimberley Hudson, serving a life sentence for spousal murder, who incurred a £40,000 taxpayer-funded legal bill during a failed challenge for the right to wear a wig and prosthetics. A High Court Judge ruled that a wig might be used to aid an escape.

A spokesperson for HM Prison Services said that, despite the 2011 policy change, prisons did not keep official records on transgender inmates, which compounds difficulties in assessing the impacts of the current policy.

The spokesperson said, “There are strict rules governing the management of transgender prisoners,” but added that the current policy “is under review”.

Nick de Bois, a Conservative MP on parliament’s justice committee, commented: “Self-certification is at risk of abuse… The review is welcome but how can they do that without the basic figures? They should act speedily to rectify that.”

More: gender dysphoria, prison, prison officials, Transgender

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