‘Europe’s first jail in a jail’ for trans women The Times 02.02.19
Britain is to create its first transgender “jail within a jail” in what may also be a first for Europe.
A unit housing only trans inmates will open this week at Downview prison near Sutton, south London, in a building previously named after Josephine Butler, a Victorian feminist.
Downview is a women’s jail, and one source reported “significant concern” among its 320 female prisoners at the arrival of male-bodied trans inmates. Almost half of trans prisoners are sex offenders, compared with 19% in the prison population as a whole. Prison governors and doctors say some sex criminals transition to get access to women.
However, the new trans wing is understood to be in a separate building within the prison perimeter, with an inner fence dividing it from the rest of the jail. The first three residents are due this week.
Andrea Albutt, president of the Prison Governors Association, said the success of the new unit would depend on how effectively the prison protected its biologically female inmates.
“They’re going to have to have some kinds of safeguards to make sure that a Karen White event doesn’t happen again,” she said. “That is the number one priority.”
White, born Stephen Wood, a convicted child sex abuser on remand for rape, was sent to a women’s prison after self-identifying as female, even though she still had her male genitalia.
Within weeks, she had sexually assaulted two women inmates. The case triggered a revision of prison guidelines, which said the “great majority” of trans prisoners should be allowed to “experience the system in the gender in which they identify”.
Edward Argar, the justice minister, has said the new policy would “strike the right balance between ensuring that all female prisoners are kept safe [and] transgender prisoners have their rights respected”.
The creation of a “third space” for trans inmates reflects the fact that they too can be at risk. One, Tara Hudson, who had lived as a woman for years but not legally changed her gender, was placed in a men’s jail, where she said she was treated “like an animal in a zoo”.
Mike Reynolds, until recently deputy chairman of Downview’s independent monitoring board, said he understood the new facility would be in the former Josephine Butler unit. It was previously used for female young offenders but has been emptied and renamed E wing.
The unit has 15 single cells and one two-bedded cell, Reynolds said. This is too small to hold the 139 prisoners recorded as trans, but almost enough for the estimated 20 trans prisoners who are housed in the women’s estate — raising the prospect that all women’s jails except Downview could be emptied of trans inmates.
A few American big-city jails have transgender wings, but it is believed that Downview’s could be the first in Europe. Italy considered introducing one but did not go ahead.
Nicola Williams, of Fair Play for Women, which has campaigned for reform, said she “cautiously welcomed” the move.
The Ministry of Justice said three transgender prisoners with gender recognition certificates would initially be housed in the new wing and would not have access to other offenders at the prison.
It said wider policy on trans prisoners was still in development and “no final decisions have been made”.