Where sex matters | Prisons

Prisons

Keeping male and female prisoners in separate accommodation is one of the minimum expectations for the treatment of prisoners.

In the UK, Prison Rules state that male and female prisoners should be kept separate from each other. International standards also support this:

Men and women shall so far as possible be detained in separate institutions; in an institution which receives both men and women, the whole of the premises allocated to women shall be entirely separate

United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners

There are around 3,800 women in prison in England and Wales (under 5% of the prison population). Women tend to have committed significantly fewer serious violent offences or sexual offences than men. Over 30% of female prisoners report a history of sexual abuse, compared with 10% of male prisoners. Almost 60% of women reported experiencing domestic violence.

What’s the problem?

Convicted male prisoners are held in women’s prisons throughout the UK, based on gender identity. The policy on Care and Management of Individuals who are Transgender applies to prisons throughout England and Wales. It states that:

All individuals who are transgender must be initially allocated to part of the [prison] estate which matches their legally recognised gender.

England and Wales Policy

Males who identify as transgender women but who do not have a GRC should initially be placed in a men’s prison, but can apply to be transferred to a women’s prison based on evidence of “living as a woman”.

Freedom of Information requests by Fair Play for Women have revealed that there are 163 recorded transgender prisoners in England and Wales. Almost 50% have at least one conviction for a sexual offence. There is emerging evidence that the Prisons Service is failing to keep track of any of the data relating to transgender prisoners and in which is estate they are accommodated.

The rules for the Scottish Prison Service Gender Identity and Gender Reassignment Policy for those in our Custody go even further than the England and Wales policy. It makes no distinction between males with a GRC and those without one. It states

A male-to-female person in custody living permanently as a woman without genital surgery should be allocated to a female establishment. She should not be automatically regarded as posing a high sexual offence risk to other people in custody and should not be subject to any automatic restrictions of her association with other people in custody.

Scottish Prison Service policy

If a male prisoner transitions to “living as a woman” during their sentence they will be moved to a women’s prison. The Scottish policy is embossed with Stonewall and Scottish Trans Alliance logos, giving the impression that this has been developed in consultation with and endorsed by both organisations. 

Holding males in women’s prisons introduces multiple risks to women, including fear, trauma and lack of privacy. There have been instances of sexual violence against women in what should be safe private spaces. Rhona Hotchkiss, a retired prison governor previously in charge of women’s prisons in Scotland, reports that there have been numerous incidents of inappropriate sexualised and aggressive behaviour and threats towards women by transwomen. These incidents often caused real distress to women whose mental health is already vulnerable.

“I am asking [prison managers] to err on the side of caution, because there is emerging evidence that certain men are jumping on the trans bandwagon to access, and harm, very vulnerable women in prison.”

Frances Crook, Chief Executive, Howard League for Penal Reform.

 

Updates

  • Were we unkind?

    We have had this email about yesterday’s post on the prisons judicial review to which we think we should respond:  The first thing we want to say to the writer is “thank you”. We mean that. If one of our own supporters writes this to us, then it’s a...

    4th July 2021

  • The law must protect women in prison

    Today the High Court handed down a shocking and disappointing judgment, that the Ministry of Justice has not broken any law in its policy of housing fully intact men who identify as women in women’s prisons, despite the judges recognising: “a statistically greater risk of sexual assault upon non-transgender...

    2nd July 2021

  • Truth and reconciliation

    How should the public sector leave the Stonewall Champions Scheme?

    6th June 2021

  • Time to #LeaveStonewall

    This is the letter we have sent to the CEOs of the 850 organisations that are members of the Stonewall Diversity Champions Scheme. Re: Leaving the Stonewall Diversity Champions Scheme We are writing to call on you to withdraw from the scheme, both for the sake of your own...

    29th May 2021

  • Is Gender Recognition an “access all areas” pass?

    The Gender Recognition Act 2004 was passed with little public scrutiny or consideration for women’s rights. A critical question concerns the provision in Section 9 that a gender recognition certificate changes a person’s sex for all purposes. Is this an “access all areas“ pass?  When the Act was passing...

    14th April 2021

Resources

  • Jo Phoenix

    A woman’s place is not in prison

    A transcript of Jo Phoenix’s presentation at a panel discussion organised by Woman’s Place UK and the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies.

      View

  • WPUK – Woman's Place UK

    Women’s prisons and male transgender prisoners

    The ruling handed down in FDJ v SSJ in the High Court of Justice last week is further proof that UK law does not work for women. In dismissing the claim by FDJ, a woman prisoner who had suffered a sexual assault by a male prisoner while in a...

      View

  • Centre for Crime and Justice Studies

    Centre for Crime and Justice Studies

    The CCJS conducts research and analysis on crime, the process of criminalisation and the criminal justice system, and works to develop holistic, practical and sustainable solutions to the problem of crime in the UK and beyond. It has been working to encourage calm, respectful dialogue and discussion on the...

      View

  • Keep Prisons Single Sex XX

    Keep Prisons Single Sex

    A UK campaign to keep all males out of women’s prisons. KPSS argues that no male should ever be housed in a women’s prison and that information and data on crimes should be recorded accurately by sex.

      View

  • WPUK – Woman's Place UK

    Woman‘s Place UK

    Violence against women and sex discrimination still exist. Women need reserved places, separate spaces and distinct services. WPUK is a group of women from a range of backgrounds including trade unions, academia and the NHS, united by a belief that women’s hard-won rights must be defended.

      View

Publications