‘High-risk’ transgender inmates at Downview mix with women The Times 17.03.19

The original article is here.

Transgender prisoners judged too high-risk for women’s jails and held at a new trans prison unit are allowed to mix with female inmates, despite promises that they would be kept separate.

Inmates at Britain’s first trans prison wing at Downview, near Sutton, Surrey, who are understood to include sex offenders, join biological women for activities including fitness sessions, library and chapel visits, the Ministry of Justice confirmed. They are supervised by prison officers but the arrangement worries staff and biologically female prisoners. The vast majority of biologically female prisoners at Downview are low-risk and non-violent.

Downview operates a “very open regime, with women on free-flow most of the time”, according to the latest report of its independent monitoring board.

At least one trans prisoner has proved disruptive, staging a rooftop protest at Downview last weekend, the ministry confirmed. It is understood that, as a man, the same inmate staged a similar protest at another jail, overpowering a guard to do so.

“These are people who have preyed on women and there they are, among women. We don’t know what they are going to do,” a prison insider said.

The trans prisoners have gender recognition certificates making them legally women. Andrea Albutt, president of the Prison Governors’ Association, said they were placed in the new unit because they had been “risk assessed as not suitable to go into main women’s prisons”. She said they were held under “restricted status conditions”. Restricted status is the nearest equivalent in women’s prisons to category A, the most dangerous male prisoners. But Albutt said the status in the case of the trans inmates referred to their separation from other prisoners, rather than the crimes they had committed.

The trans inmates sleep and shower apart from the other female prisoners in a unit, E wing, which is separated from the rest of the prison by an inner fence.

However, the justice ministry said: “They are mixing [with the general population] for certain activities such as religious services, the gym, or the library, always with a prison officer at their side supervising them.”

It said jail “staff safely resolved an incident at height on March 9 involving one prisoner. No one was injured.”

The Downview unit opened last month, initially housing three prisoners, though more are expected. The ministry said at the time that the trans inmates would be held “without access to other offenders at the prison”.

Nicola Williams, of the campaign group Fair Play for Women, said: “We cautiously welcomed the creation of a ‘third space’ but it is very worrying that the Prison Service is not keeping its promises that trans prisoners will be separate. This is exactly why women’s organisations must be involved in the development of this policy.”

Government policy on trans prisoners, which says the “great majority” should be allowed to “experience the system in the gender in which they identify”, is in flux after a transgender woman, Karen White, sexually assaulted two inmates at a women’s prison where she had been remanded. White, born Stephen Wood, a convicted child sex abuser on remand for rape, was sent to New Hall women’s jail after self-identifying as female, even though she still had male genitalia. A court was told that White, described by a judge as “a predator and highly manipulative”, sought transition to gain easier access to women.

Almost half of trans prisoners are sex offenders, compared with less than a fifth of the prison population as a whole, according to official figures.

Campaigners have raised concerns that the prospect of moving to the relatively liberal environment of a women’s prison could be a motive for insincere transition by dangerous inmates kept in high-security in the male estate. However, trans women prisoners are also at risk if placed in men’s jails. Albutt said the Prison Service was “trying to do their best” in a very difficult situation.

The ministry said: “The wider management of transgender offenders is a highly sensitive issue which poses unique and complex challenges and we are determined to get it right.”