Yesterday afternoon, Baroness Liz Barker lead further calls for action on trans prisoners in the House of Lords. For those not following the story, this follows a public outcry over Tara Hudson being placed in a male prison and then, last week, the death of Vicky Thompson in Leeds who had also been placed in a male facility. This is far from a new issue, being one I wrote about back in 2010 and that stretches back to at least 1996, when Press For Change were campaigning about it.
Having had longer to get briefed on the issue, the House of Lords gave the government a much tougher time than in the Commons, although the government still failed to give any substantive answers.
Suggesting that it would be “inappropriate” to place pressure on people to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate when the current policy does exactly that is also a very odd response, and we know that trans communities were not consulted in the creation of the current policy, based on an old Freedom of Information request.
Stripping the extensive parliamentary niceties and paraphrasing heavily, the exchange went much as follows with commentary in italics: (The formal transcript is also available on Parliament’s web site)
- Liz Barker: (LibDem) In light of the death of Vicky Thompson, will the Government review the Prison Servicesâ€™ treatment of trans prisoners?
- Edward Faulks: (Conservative Minister) We can’t comment on Miss Thompson’s death while investigations are ongoing, and the policy is currently under review.
- Liz Barker: (LibDem) Recent events have shown that placing trans women in male estates is dangerous. Does the Minister agree that trans prisoners should be housed in the estate of their acquired gender in the first instance and moved to another estate only following a thorough investigation that rules out all other safe alternatives?
- Minister: The National Offender Management Service policy suggests people are housed according to their legal gender under the Gender Recognition Act, but a degree of discretion is allowed to the Prison Service.
- Michael Cashman: (Labour) What urgent steps will the Minister take to review the location of all trans people in prison and to move them to appropriate prisons according to their acquired gender, to avoid a repeat of the tragedy that befell Vicky Thompson?
- Minister: The important thing is that there is no generalisation here. Individual assessment is carried out by the Prison Service. It is after that assessment that they should be assigned an appropriate part of a prison.
- James Hope: (Crossbench) Does this policy also apply in Young Offender Institutions?
- Minister: The policy applies throughout the prison estate, including the youth estate.
- Paul Scriven: (LibDem) There has been an eight-month gap when the current guidelines are no longer applicable because they are past their expiry date. If those guidelines are being updated, what open invitation has been given to trans support groups to help the Government update the guidelines?
- Minister: The noble Lord makes what he may think is a clever point, but the policy remains current until cancelled. We take account of trans communities view when drafting policy. (The accusation from the minister that Lord Scriven’s point is “clever” is rather ill-judged, given that the question follows a death and that evidence to the commons Trans Equality Inquiry includes a submission from someone in prison specifically stating that the expiry of the old policy has caused problems. We also know that trans communities were not widely consulted in the creation of the current policy, based on an a parliamentary question from Caroline Lucas and a Freedom of Information request.)
- Jeremy Beecham: (Labour) will the Governmentâ€™s review extend to the size of the prison population, and will the training of prison staff be extended in time and depth?
- Minister: Prison officer training has been extended to include equalities provisions, including trans issues. The original prison service policy is an impressive document, but there is room for continual improvement.
- Jonathan Marks: (LibDem) One difficulty under the existing system, with giving priority to legal gender, is that trans people who turn out to be offenders may be the least likely to apply for gender recognition certificates (GRCs) under the 2004 Act. Will the government review take that into account?
- Minister: The decision to apply for a GRC is an intensely personal one. It would be entirely inappropriate to in any way place pressure on somebody to go through that process. (Suggesting that it would be “inappropriate” to place pressure on people to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate when the current policy does exactly that is a very odd response)
Liz Barker has also written about the issue for the Huffington Post.
The full exchange is worth watching and is below and also on the Parliament Live web site.