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Up to half of trans inmates may be sex offenders
Dragging on her king-sized cigarette in front of a no-smoking sign, her long, red-dyed hair falling over her silver fur coat, Davina Ayrton smiled at the camera just before she was sentenced to eight years in prison for raping a schoolgirl.
For anyone asking how a woman can be convicted of rape — which in law requires the use of a penis — the answer is Ayrton, previously known as David, was a man when she pinned down her 15-year-old victim in a Portsmouth garage. She still has her male genitalia.
At trial Ayrton expressed a wish to serve her time in a women’s prison. Now a proposed change in the law makes her desire a real prospect.
In March, Jessica Winfield, a transgender double rapist convicted under her previous identity of Martin Ponting, was moved to a women’s jail after having a sex change. Two months ago, Winfield was reportedly segregated after making “inappropriate advances” to female prisoners.
With the government soon to consult about allowing people to change gender on demand, prisons will be on the front line. No other single-sex place — no changing room, lavatory or shower area — forces you to live in it for up to 24 hours a day, confined with others who are there because their behaviour is extreme.
Transgender lobbyists say putting trans women into men’s jails endangers and may even kill them. They point to Tara Hudson, who lived as a woman for almost a decade before being sent to a male prison — where she was treated, she said, as a “zoo animal” — or to the five trans prisoners in men’s jails who have killed themselves over the past two years.
In 2015 Cat Smith, the Labour MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood, read out in parliament a letter from a trans constituent in a men’s jail who said she had been raped by male prisoners.
But a new report by the campaign group Fair Play for Women, to be published today, suggests that placing transwomen in female prisons may be even more risky for the other inmates. According to the research, a disproportionate number of transgender convicts are, like Ayrton and Winfield, sex offenders.
It was a problem already quietly worrying professionals in the field. In previously unpublicised evidence to the Commons women and equalities committee, the British Psychological Society warned that some biological men convicted of sex crimes had “falsely claimed” to be transgender “as a means of demonstrating reduced risk and so gaining parole” or in rare cases it has been thought that the person is “seeking better access to females and young children through presenting in an apparently female way”.
The president of the British Association of Gender Identity Specialists, James Barrett, told the committee a “highly concerned prison governor” had received a “plethora of prison intelligence” that one dangerous offender sought transition “to make subsequent sexual offending very much easier”.
According to the Ministry of Justice there are 70 trans prisoners in England and Wales. It refuses freedom of information requests asking how many are sex offenders. It is known, however, that eight men’s prisons are reserved for sex criminals — and the new research suggests there are 46 trans inmates in these eight jails alone.
The number was obtained from 2016 or 2017 reports on each prison published by its independent monitoring board, formerly the board of visitors, or in reports by the prisons inspectorate. The figure is not definitive because the reports were published at different times over the past year or so and cover slightly different periods for each jail.
Many sex offenders are also housed outside the eight specialist jails, so the true number of transgender sex offenders could be higher than 46. And the total number of transgender prisoners is also likely to be greater than the official figure of 70, which dates from spring 2016.
Based on examining the reports from the then 118 prisons in England and Wales, Fair Play for Women estimates that the total number of male-to-female transgender prisoners in men’s prisons is about 100. A further 13 trans inmates, including Winfield, been transferred to women’s prisons, the group says.
Despite the imprecision of the figures, it appears likely, therefore, that between a third and a half of all England and Wales’s transgender prisoners — Fair Play for Women states 41% — are sex offenders. That compares with a proportion of 17% in the prison population as a whole.
The disproportionate representation of sex criminals among transgender inmates also emerges in several reports by prison monitoring boards. The monitors for the sex offenders’ prison at Stafford, covering the year to April 2017, say that towards the end of that period this single jail “held 10% of the national transgender prisoner population”.
The report for Littlehey, another sex offender-only jail, covering the period to January 2017, says there are 11 trans prisoners. At Whatton, another prison housing exclusively sex criminals, the 2016 report says there are 12 trans inmates.
Most retain their male genitalia but six are on the “pathway” to physical sex-change treatment. They can order women’s clothing and beauty accessories.
Current English prison policy, described as “sensible” by Barrett and other gender practitioners, tries to balance the needs of different groups. It says that trans inmates do not have the right to choose whether to be in men’s or women’s prisons unless their change of gender has been legally established through a “gender recognition certificate”, requiring the consent of a doctor and an expert panel, though not surgery.
After the Tara Hudson case, however, the policy also says that requests from other trans prisoners to be moved to women’s jails will be looked on sympathetically where there is strong evidence of their living as female before incarceration — and will be blocked if an offender is suspected of “insincere motivation”.
If the government’s proposals to allow gender self-definition go through, such controls may be removed and the number of biological men in female jails is expected to increase sharply. Nicola Williams, of Fair Play for Women, said: “Trans-identifying males will become eligible for transfer to women’s prisons, representing a serious risk to the safety, privacy and dignity of women in prison.
“There is a conflict here between transgender rights and the rights of other people such as women. What is shocking is that we are rushing into this [self-declaration] without evidence of its impacts.”
The effect can already be seen in Scotland, where this policy is broadly in place and most trans prisoners are allowed to transfer to women’s units without a gender recognition certificate. Scotland has 18 transgender prisoners, including 13 male-to-female, far more than England and Wales for its prison population size. Most are in female accommodation.
One of the 13, Paris Green, was convicted of murder as a man and has twice been allowed to transfer to women’s units before being moved out again after having sex with female inmates.
Another trans inmate, Tiffany Scott, convicted as Andrew Burns for stalking a 13-year-old girl, assault and other offences, punched a prison officer and threw a chair at the prison nurse. The offences, which took place when Scott was asking to be known as Mighty Almighty, led to a court hearing at which Scott screamed that the presiding sheriff was a “f****** transphobe bastard” for referring to her by the wrong pronoun.
One shop steward from the POA, the Scottish prison officers union, said: “We have to be careful not to come across as bigots stuck in the past, but we also have to represent our members. Some of these guys [prisoners], the minority, I’d say, are at it.”
Additional reporting: Jason Allardyce