How transgender people are treated in prison

One of the questions that has been voiced on Twitter recently in the debate about trans women has been the case of the Soham murderer, who in 2002 as Ian Huntley murdered two ten year old school girls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman and was jailed for 40 years. A number of tabloid newspapers have reported that Huntley is transitioning, and wishes to be called Lian. Incidentally, the prison service has said several times that Huntley is not planning transition.

There are those who say that giving any trans prisoner with a violent past the rights to move to a woman’s prison and mix with women puts women prisoners at risk. They have even tried to say that the Liberal Democrats in supporting trans rights, do not care about women’s rights in prison.

I see that Sal Brinton has written about the Liberal Democrat policies on trans matters, and I wanted to write about the formal process that the National Offender Management Service insists on for the care and management of transgender offenders, designed to both recognise the rights of trans people in prison, but also ensuring the safety of other prisoners and staff. Their policy can be found here,

Pages 12-13 sets out the protocol relating to sentenced prisoners. It says that there will be an initial Local Transgender Case Board after a prisoner declares, and can provide evidence, that they are living in the gender the offender identifies with, and will, as appropriate, make arrangements for transfers to other parts of the prison estate.

With prisoners who might also be deemed a risk to other prisoners, there then has to be a Complex Case Board called for Transgender Offenders, which will look at the complexity and specifically assess the risk of harm prior to making decisions about prison location. The views of the offender must be presented to the Board, but there are a number of healthcare and psychology leads there to ensure that any move to a women’s prison would be safe.

Options include moving a prisoner to a women’s prison but keeping them in segregation, or, if it is felt that even this is too risky, they would be moved into a segregated part of a men’s prison, but staffed as if they are in women’s unit.

It seems to me that this document sets out well all the steps that need to be taken to protect both the trans prisoner (who is at much higher risk of assault than non-trans prisoners) but also protecting other prisoners from someone who might be deemed to be a risk.

Whilst I appreciate that there are some people who have concerns about a recently transitioned prisoner moving into a women’s prison, it is clear from the Care and Management of Transgender Offenders document that much care is taken to ensure risks are understood and all prisoners are kept safe.

* Lord Navnit Dholakia is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords and was President of the Liberal Democrats from 2001-2004.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Zoe O'connell 30th Jun '18 - 12:47pm

    Mark – why will they “obviously” change? We already have what’s being called “self ID” for passports and driving licences.

  • Andy Hinton 30th Jun '18 - 3:25pm

    Mark, that is what opponents of GRA reform want people to believe the debate is about. In reality, self-declaration has been a practical reality in most spheres for some time. The proposed reforms to the GRA are simply to make the updating of one’s birth certificate easier. For any situation where a birth certificate is not involved, the proposed reforms change very little.

    I confess I’m not an expert on the prison system, but the impression I have is not that prisoners who transition while in prison have to have completed a transition and obtained a GRC (which is likely to be a years-long process) before they are treated in accordance with their gender identity.

  • Andy Hinton 30th Jun '18 - 3:26pm

    Incidentally, for anyone who wants to know more about what the current debate around GRA reform is about, can I recommend this excellent thread from LGBT+ Lib Dems on the twitters:

  • Gender as a concept should simply be abolished outright. Until this happens everything is simply tinkering at the edges. It will take a generation or two before this is fully accepted, but we must not pander to bigots.

  • I do wish people would not routinely refer to other people who may see things differently as “bigots”. Apart from anything else it is extremely illiberal.

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