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Prisons watchdog demands changes after deaths of transgender inmates

Nick Duffy January 10, 2017

Prison

The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman has recommended reforms on trans issues following a string of deaths of trans prisoners.

The UK government had promised a review in 2015 of the way trans people in prisons are dealt with, after two female prisoners died within weeks of each other while being held in all-male facilities.

The review finished in November, with the Ministry of Justice introducing ‘safeguards’ to ensure that transgender people would not be put at risk in prisons inconsistent with their gender.

The issue became more urgent this month – after the death of a further transgender prisoner, Jenny Swift, inside an all-male facility. The probe into her death is still ongoing.

The independent  Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, Nigel Newcomen, said today: “My office has historically received few complaints from prisoners identifying themselves as transgender, and, fortunately, has investigated relatively few deaths of transgender individuals in custody. However, more recently, these numbers have been climbing.

“Last year, in quick succession, two transgender women tragically took their own lives while in custody. A third transgender woman is thought to have taken her own life in November 2016, and a fourth in December 2016.

“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.”

He issued a bulletin highlighting the need for a flexible system that evaluates “the location of a transgender prisoner based on an individual assessment of their needs, considering the possibility of them residing in the estate of their acquired gender”.

It adds that officers must make “reasonable adjustments” for trans prisoners “to help them to live in their gender role”, and must “meaningfully investigate all allegations of transphobic bullying and harassment and taking steps taken to challenge and prevent it”.

More: LGBT, prison, Prisons, Trans, Transgender

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