Government challenged after death of trans woman in male prison
Labour’s Cat Smith has asked an urgent question in Parliament, after it emerged that a transgender woman died while being housed in a male prison.
21-year-old Vicky Thompson was found dead inside HMP Leeds last week, though news of her death only emerged yesterday.
Following the incident, shadow equalities minister Cat Smith today asked an urgent question on the issue in the House of Commons.
She said: “I would like to put on record, on behalf of the Labour Party, our sincere condolences to the family, boyfriend and friends of Vicky Thompson.
“I first raised the issue of Tara Hudson, a young trans woman who was placed in a men’s prison, on the floor of this house on the third of November. It’s a tragedy that within three weeks of that, we are once again discussing the issue of trans prisoners.
She warned: “At a time when the prison population is increasing, overcrowding is on the rise, and the number of individuals who are coming forward for GRS is also increasing, the issue of placement of transgender prisoners is one that only looks to increase.”
The MP asked whether the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) will begin to record the number of transgender people who are in prisons, if current guidelines are appropriate, and for confirmation of a wider review of the issue.
Prisons minister Andrew Selous responded: “I would like to begin by offering my sincere condolences to the family and friends of Vicky Thompson. Her death, like all others in custody, is a tragedy, and we are totally committed to reducing the number of deaths in prisons.
“Each death in investigated by the independent prisons and probation ombudsman, and is the subject of a coroner’s inquest.
“We believe that Vicky Thompson was being looking after in an accordance with the relevant procedures, but that is now a matter for the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman and Coroner.
“While their investigations are ongoing, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the circumstances of her death.”
He added: “Prison service instructions set out the NOMS policy on the care and management of prisoners who live, or propose to live, in the gender other than the one they are assigned at birth.
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“Prisoners are normally placed according to their legally recognised gender. That means either the gender on their birth certificate, or the gender on their Gender Recognition Certificate.
“However, the guidelines allow some room for discretion, and senior prison staff will review circumstances of every case in consultation with medical and other experts in order to protect the physical and emotional wellbeing of the person concerned, along with the safety and wellbeing of other prisoners.
“The usual practise is for them to be held in a supportive environment away from the main regime of the prison, and protected from risk of harm from other prison.
“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.
He added: “Where relevant, clothing and toiletries are provided to enable prisoners to present in their acquired gender, consistent with the arrangement set out with the prison arrangements. More generally, prisoners who are transitioning are entitled to live in the gender they seek to acquire.
“A review of the current policy began earlier this year, and revised policy guidance will be issued to reflect the NOMS responsibilities to transgender offenders in the community as well as in custody. The intention is to implement the guidance in due course.”
Mr Selous added that barrister Kate Lampard has been appointed as the interim chair of the independent advisory panel of deaths in custody.