Transgender Inmates - General
How Does the Justice System Classify Transgender Individuals?
Transgender inmates classified by the Department of Corrective Services include persons who have been identified as being non-biological male or female gender, with or without having undergone gender-related surgery or hormone therapy appropriate to their choice.
Where Do Transgender Reside Whilst In Prison?
The majority of transgender inmates are male-to-female (M2F). They may reside in specialised units in male correctional centres, or may request and be transferred to placement in female correctional centres. Female-to-Male (F2M) transgender inmates usually reside, for reasons of personal safety, in female correctional centres although placement could occur at male centres where suitable facilities exist. Decision about placements of transgender inmates is the responsibility of the Department of Corrective Services, although Corrections Health Service may be consulted.
(Source - Corrections Health Canada, edited version)
Systemic Problems Relating to Transgender Inmates
Transgender inmates pose a unique problem within the correctional system. They are at a far greater risk of assault, particularly sexual assault. Transgender women are at particular risk if they are placed within a male correctional facility. In order to ensure their safety, transgender prisoners should be held in accommodation appropriate to their preferred gender identity. In some cases the best interests of the prisoner may be better served by segregation from non-transgender inmates. However, segregation in prisons should avoid further marginalising transgender people or rendering them at further risk of torture or ill-treatment. The line between prisoner safety and transphobic discrimination is easily blurred by the prison authorities, and prison officials can sometimes conceal their discriminatory behaviour, remaining unaccountable for their actions, by claiming that they are acting to protect transgender prisoners.
There is also a great deal of difficulty in dealing with the establishment of their personal sense of identity within a system that fails to recognise the individual. Transsexuality is a recognised medical disorder, and its treatment requires the individual be assisted to adopt a gender role different to that of their birth sex. In attempting to achieve such a transition transgenders are continually discriminated against and victimised at a much higher rate than is the case for the general community, including homosexuals. Such problems are amplified intensely within a correctional setting.
Problems Routinely Encountered Within Prison: Denial of Hormone Treatment
- Medical treatment performed by staff inadequately qualified to deal with a specialised area of medical expertise, resulting in poor management of treatment regimes leading to life threatening situations
- Strip searches and urinalysis procedures performed in front of other inmates, or by officers of the birth sex of the inmate. This is despite regulations to the contrary
- Verbal harassment by staff
- Sexual victimisation and harassment by other inmates, often ignored by officers
- Difficulty in obtaining goods and services to cover personal and basic needs, despite regulations allowing access to such goods
- Transgenders must continually live with the denial of their identity due to a system that ignores their basic rights, and the obligations under the Anti Discrimination Act
- Prisons often leave transgender inmates to attempt to make their own arrangements for secure showering, or allow separate showering only after an incident, such as a threat of rape, or actual rape, has occurred (i.e. Junee Correctional Centre has no facilities that allow transgender inmates to shower with privacy in the general prison)
In effect, transgender inmates are seen as people who have made a choice based on sexuality, and the official attitude is that because of this they are nothing more than sexual objects provided for the entertainment of officers and inmates alike. Incidents that would normally be regarded as sexual/indecent assault are ignored or given scant attention, when targetted at transgender inmates even after an official complaint has been lodged. The current treatment of transgender inmates within NSW creates numerous situations where their basic human rights are breached. Complaints lodged by inmates, dealt with internally, are only responded to with arrogant justifications for departmental actions. It is essential to establish contact with transgender inmates so their position within particular facilities can be assessed and responses to their needs can be initiated.
Transgender inmates also need to be informed that someone outside of the prison is prepared to take up their fight and provide appropriate follow through to ensure that complaints are not simply ignored or swept under the carpet. Although transgender inmates are a special needs group, they are virtually unrepresented within the prison system. This encourages the current departmental attitude that places them at greater risk with no solutions forthcoming.
If Justice Action is seen to be taking an interest the department will be forced to tread a little more carefully before denying transgender inmates their basic human rights, and their overall safety may be improved. There has already been at least one transgender death in custody: a suicide enacted following the repeated rape of the inmate within her first week in the system. It is unthinkable that such events could be repeated.
Departmental Position & Policy
Correspondence from the Inspector General in 2001 indicated that his office would be reviewing the position for transgender inmates. He also stated that he believed all that was required was an overhaul of staff attitudes. The problems encountered by transgender inmates are due to a systemic attitudinal problem. Their basic identity is simply tolerated and policies are enacted without a fundamental understanding of the real nature of their medical disorder. The Department of Corrective Services does have a policy, "Management of Transgender Inmates".
Although it appears to be reasonable, i.e. it recognises self-identification, gives rights to be housed in a facility according to identity, access to clothing, underwear, cosmetics, etc, the reality is quite different. The policy presents a nice public face but in application obtaining the resources and rights outlined can be exceptionally difficult, depending on administration at any particular prison. Responses range from excellent to ...forget it!!
Justice Actions Position
Justice Action will establish contact with transgender inmates directly and through community centres such as the Gender Centre.
Justice Action will construct a profile of responses to transgender needs at each correctional facility, and will encourage transgender inmates to raise issues of concern. Such a profile, will undoubtably expose a wide disparity in response to transgender needs between facilities.
Justice Action will raise questions with Corrective Services requiring explanation for such disparity, and rectification of the problems, aiming for a best-case scenario.
Justice Action will keep transgender inmates up to date with legal and other changes that affect their position. Recently Corrections Health policy regarding hormone treatment was changed to allow transgender inmates to commence hormone therapy whilst in prison, yet inmates have not been notified of this. Generally clinic staff are also either unaware of the change or unwilling to support transgender inmates seeking this therapy.
Justice Action will monitor this situation and ensure transgender inmates are not disadvantaged.
Justice Action will develop a proposal for the safe and effective management of transgender inmates that will realistically address both security and personal needs.
Justice Action will liaise with transgender prisoner rights activist groups and individuals at a global level to build a resource base of medical and human rights information to be distributed to inmates on request.
Justice Actions position on transgender inmates is only one part of our overall struggle to ensure that all prison inmates are treated as human beings with respect to individual dignity and identity.
Prepared by Anna for Justice Action
7th May 2002