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Crime

Justice minister: Government ‘committed’ to protecting trans prisoners

Nick Duffy December 16, 2015

Justice and equalities minister Caroline Dinenage has said that the government remains committed to protecting transgender people in prisons, after a number of high-profile failures.

Two transgender prisoners died within weeks of eachother last month – while being kept in all-male facilities.

Inquests have open into the successive deaths of Vikki Thompson at HMP Leeds, and Joanne Latham at HMP Woodhill in Milton Keynes.

A third prisoner, Tara Hudson, was kept briefly in a male prison – and has been vocal in criticising her treatment and calling for reform.

Labour’s shadow equalities spokesperson Cat Smith held an adjournment debate on the issue in Parliament this week.

She said: “Research suggests that trans people are over-represented in the criminal justice system.

“The proportion of trans people in the prison system may be twice the proportion in the general population. Many of the offences for which trans people are incarcerated apparently involve obtaining money for privately funded gender reassignment surgery.”

The SNP’s Angela Crawley raised Scotland’s more progressive system, developed alongside trans groups, which ensures “prisoners are placed in the estate that reflects their gender identity, regardless of whether they have a gender recognition certificate”.

Ms Smith added: “There are huge differences in the placement of transgender prisoners between the Scottish prison estate and the English and Welsh prison estate.

“The policy guidelines for England and Wales state that prisoners should normally be located in the prison estate of their gender, as recognised by UK law.

“For transgender prisoners, that is normally decided by the gender stated on their gender recognition certificate [though there is some flexibility].”

She continued: “A great number of people who have transitioned gender do not have a gender recognition certificate, so this does not just affect those who are at the beginning of their transition.

“Many trans people do not seek a gender recognition certificate for a great number of reasons, including financial reasons such as access to pensions.

“That puts them at risk, were they to enter the prison estate in England and Wales, of not being assigned to the prison estate of their acquired gender.”

Caroline Dinenage, who is both the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice and Minister for Women and Equalities, spoke about the issue.

She said: “There are limits to what I can say about individual cases… none the less, I wish to place it on public record that both myself in a personal capacity and the Government consider each self-inflicted death in custody a tragedy.

“We are committed to reducing the number of deaths in prisons, and every death is the subject of investigations by the police and the independent Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, as well as a coroner’s inquest.

“The safety and well-being of all prisoners in our care is of the highest priority.

She continued: “I wish to reassure the hon. Lady of my utmost commitment to the care and management of transgender prisoners. The planned review will allow us the opportunity to focus on their needs and their well-being against the backdrop of social reform, and as part of our wider investment in the rehabilitation of all prisoners in our care.”

The minister said she would be “more than happy to look into any individual cases if [Ms Smith] would be kind enough to forward them to me.”

Ms Dinenage also gave more detail about an upcoming review of trans issues in the prison system, explaining: “The review will ask for evidence and submissions in the new year, and we want that to be an open and engaging process. Everything and anything will be taken into consideration at that point.

“We want to ensure that we provide staff in prisons and probation with the best possible guidance.

“NOMS, the Youth Justice Board, the national health service and the Government Equalities Office have already started to provide the professional and operational expertise necessary to get this right.

“In addition, Peter Dawson and Dr Jay Stewart will act as independent advisers to the review.

“Peter Dawson is deputy director of the Prison Reform Trust and has served as deputy governor of HMP Brixton and governor of HMP Downview and HMP High Down. Dr Jay Stewart is a director of Gendered Intelligence, an organisation that aims to increase the understanding of gender diversity.”

More: Caroline Dinenage, Cat Smith, Conservative, Dinenage, Labour, mp, Tory, Trans, Transgender

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