Transgender prison wing ‘failed its inmates’ The Times 04.01.19

The original article is here.

Britain’s only dedicated unit for high-risk, transgender women prisoners was set up too quickly and failed to provide proper activities for its inmates, according to a watchdog.

One prisoner in the unit harmed herself 35 times in three months.

Women in the unit at Downview women’s jail in Sutton, Surrey, complained of boredom because there was little purposeful activity for them.

Members of the jail’s independent monitoring board (IMB) were critical of the speed with which the prison service opened the unit after controversy over the conviction of a transgender prisoner who attacked inmates in a women’s jail. “The board is concerned that prisoners in the new high-risk unit do not have fair access to activities and education,” its annual report said.

“This is the result of inadequate time given to Downview to develop a regime and insufficient resources for adequate staffing.”

The unit was opened in March last year following the case of Karen White, a transgender prisoner who sexually assaulted two women while on remand at New Hall women’s prison. White, who was born male and now identifies as a woman, was described by a judge as a predator who was a danger to women and children. She was given a life sentence for sexual offences.

The Downview unit is for prisoners who have transitioned, hold a gender recognition certificate and have been assessed as posing a high risk to other inmates. It can hold a maximum of sixteen prisoners but at present has three. The IMB report said that it was unclear what the long-term strategy for the unit was.

Three months after it opened there was no regular purposeful activity for inmates and there were too few staff to provide women with regular access to activities elsewhere in the prison. Inmates have to be supervised one to one if they go to other parts of the jail.

Staff volunteering to work on the unit had received only one and a half days of extra training.

The latest Ministry of Justice figures show that there were 163 transgender prisoners in jails in England and Wales in April to May last year. Most — 129 — reported their legal gender as male, 32 female and two not stated.

John Podmore, a former prison governor, said: “The prison service has for too long operated on the basis of one size fits all. The needs of transgender prisoners, terrorists, older prisoners, abused women and damaged children are met only with knee-jerk reactions to headlines, or the comfort and warm glow of another inquiry report, too long after the event to be meaningful.”

A Prison Service spokesman said: “This arrangement recognises these prisoners’ legal status as women and ensures access to a full regime while protecting other vulnerable women. This report covered a period ending last May, since when significant improvements have been introduced.”

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