Artillery Row

Keep men out of women’s prisons

A judicial review has been brought to challenge HMPPS policy which allows men who identify as women to mix with female prisoners

Convicts are not a fluffy bunch, but something even the “hang ‘em, flog ‘em” brigade ought to agree on is that whatever their crime, prisoners should not be put at unnecessary risk. Indeed, Her Majesty’s Prisons and Probation Service (HMPPS) have a duty of care to inmates, though it seems this has not been applied even-handedly.

In the UK today HMPPS policies allow men who identify as women to mix with female prisoners. The purpose is essentially to avoid hurting the feelings of male offenders who believe themselves to have a female gender identity, and arguably to avoid bad publicity. To challenge, this a judicial review has been brought; the case centres on a female prisoner who alleges she was sexually assaulted by a male inmate at HMP Bronzefield, an all-female jail. The judicial review, which was due to be heard this week, was adjourned on Wednesday and is now likely to be heard in 2021.

The most recent HMPPS snapshot figures show “139 prisoners currently living in, or presenting in, a gender different to their sex assigned at birth” (this does not include those who have gone through the process of obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate). The majority are in the male estate. Newly formed campaign group, Keep Prisons Single Sex, have been raising awareness of the problem. The group spokeswoman told me:

Official guidelines on the care of transgender prisoners state that a male who has a Gender Recognition Certificate meaning that he is legally a woman must be housed in the female estate, regardless of whether or not he has had any ‘reassignment’ surgery. A male who identifies as a woman, but who does not have a GRC, can still apply to be housed in a women’s prison. If vulnerable women in prison, who have literally no choice, don’t merit single sex spaces, who does?

How men came to share women’s facilities is a tale that encompasses poorly thought-through policy, political posturing and photographs of a criminal’s 34EE breasts. Long before J.K. Rowling was out in public as a trans apostate, and in the year when Caitlyn (nee Bruce) Jenner was made Glamour magazine’s “Woman of the Year,” a campaign to have a transgender prisoner moved to a women’s prison went viral. The prisoner was Tara Hudson, and in 2015 a petition to have him moved from the male to the female estate went viral, gaining 150,000 signatories in a matter of weeks.

What started as well-intentioned clicktivism has resulted in the sexual assault of women

From the BBC to The Telegraph, a photo of Hudson looking up at the camera with large doe eyes and a silicon-enhanced cleavage was widely circulated and used to illustrate the point that transgender women are at risk in men’s prisons. Green Party MP Caroline Lucas wrote an open letter to the Ministry of Justice asking for Hudson to be moved, leader of the Liberal Democrats Tim Farron intervened and Ben Howlett, the Conservative MP for Bathwho was also on the Women and Equalities Select Committee stated, “We will be pressing the Ministry of Justice for a formal line following this and work to ensure there is no repeat of this situation in future.” On Twitter, the hashtag #ISeeTara began trending.

What most of the well-meaning petition signatories and supporters failed to realise was that Hudson was a repeat violent offender with what was described in court as a “worrying criminal record”. Moreover, just one month prior to conviction in an interview for The Mirror Hudson had clearly explained “I’m really a bloke” and in advertisements for sexual services Hudson was described as a “shemale” boasting a “seven-inch surprise”. After serving one week in a male prison, HMP Bristol, Hudson was moved for the remaining six weeks to a women’s facility, Eastwood Park. Public sympathy was with Hudson and his widely reported plight sparked outrage.

Following the Hudson case and two apparent suicides of men who were reported to identify as women, in 2016 the Ministry of Justice changed their guidance to advise: ‘‘Allowing transgender offenders to experience the system in the gender in which they identify will, in the great majority of cases, represent the most humane and safest way to act.” After his release Hudson complained: “Girls show their emotions, they cry and they self-harm but males, when they have got a problem, they just let it out with violence.”

Five years on and what started as well-intentioned clicktivism has resulted in the sexual assault of women in prison by convicted, male-bodied rapists. Lorna, who was in and out of prison during her late teens and early twenties, told me:

The key point for me is that most of the women in prison (including me) had arrived there after a lifetime of having to appease violent men, of having that appeasement of violent men to be a keystone of their survival, and so importing that necessity of appeasement of violent men INTO the prison is both cruel and counter-productive.

Even a small migration of men into the category of “woman” will impact the character of prisons

Research by the organisation Women in Prison backs this up. They report seven in ten women in prison are victims of domestic abuse, 48% have committed an offence to fund someone else’s drug use and that 80% are imprisoned for non-violent offences such as shoplifting. It should also be noted that women comprise around 4% of the total prison population. Given this, even a small migration of men into the category of “woman” will impact both data, and indeed the character of prisons. This change is already apparent, as reported by The Times earlier this year: “transgender prisoners are five times more likely to carry out sex attacks on inmates at women’s jails than other prisoners.”

In March 2019 Unit E, a specialist facility for high risk male offenders who identify as women, was set-up off HMP Downview. This followed the widely publicised case of Karen White (previously known as Stephen Wood). Despite a history of violent and sexual offending White was placed on remand at HMP New Hall where he sexually assaulted two female prisoners. Stuck between the demands of transgender activists and a resurgent feminist movement it’s easy to understand why the Ministry of Justice thought this a solution, though harder to fathom why they chose to locate Unit E off a women’s prison.

Transgender identities for men are often synonymous with paraphilias

The routine incarceration of men who identify as women in the female estate did not happen over-night. In a comprehensive recent paper, Michael Biggs, professor of sociology at the University of Oxford, documented these changes in prison policy which he argues were brought about through the predominance of queer theorists in academia, a somewhat elitist “liberal discourse of human rights” and a total disregard for the needs of women in prison. The process began some forty years ago, long before even the Gender Recognition Act of 2004 allowed for the legal change of gender on official documents.

Arguably, the trans issue first impacted prisons because transgender identities for men are often synonymous with paraphilias and are, as previously reported by The Critic, disproportionately linked to sexual offending.

Specialists in the field repeatedly tried to warn the government about the potential pitfalls of acceding to the demands of male prisoners who claimed a female gender identity. Dr James Barrett, then President of the British Association of Gender Identity Specialists, told the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee in 2015:

It has been rather naïvely suggested that nobody would seek to pretend transsexual status in prison if this were not actually the case. There are, to those of us who actually interview the prisoners, in fact very many reasons why people might pretend this. These vary from the opportunity to have trips out of prison … to wanting a special or protected status within the prison system, and a plethora of prison intelligence information suggests that the driving force was a desire to make subsequent sexual offending much easier, with females being generally perceived as low risk in this regard.

Women in prison are neither a popular nor a particularly sympathetic group. There is little kudos in standing-up for their rights, which is perhaps why they have been so easy to remove. Stories like those of the photogenic Tara Hudson make better copy than the often-grim reality that leads women into the criminal justice system. Women in prison are acutely vulnerable, and yet to satisfy a demanding and well-funded lobby their rights have been given away by thoughtless ideologues. Slowly, thanks to the efforts of new women’s groups, the narrative is beginning to change; perhaps by the time the judicial review resumes news outlets which champion transgender rights will find some compassion to spare for women in prison.

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