Statement on transgender prisoners

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

The Centre for Crime and Justice Studies focuses on the education of the public around issues relating to the criminal justice system across the UK.

We seek to encourage calm, respectful and informed public dialogue, where differing positions are explored and principled differences are recognised and discussed.

We base our positions on many years’ experience in the field of criminal justice, grounded in our values as an organisation. These values include recognition of the inherent value of each individual life, and the right of all people to live their lives free from fear, discrimination or violence, and in a way that makes sense to them, in accordance with the law.

This statement is work in progress, as is all our thinking. We hope to engage in ongoing dialogue with as many individuals and organisations as possible, including those that hold a different position to us. Our approach to education is to learn. The criminal justice system does not operate in a vacuum, but is one of many levels of significance in people’s lives. We live with nuance and detail of experience not always involved or expressed in ‘policy’. That is why we value discussion, debate and open conversation.

Our starting point in relation to prisons is that they are not safe or healthy places: for prisoners, for prison staff, or for visitors. The most significant step to start reducing the harms of the prison system would be to reduce, significantly, the numbers of people unnecessarily imprisoned and to shrink the prison estate.

Given that imprisonment is an ongoing, lived reality for many thousands of people, we also consider it vital that the prison service takes all necessary steps to reduce the harms of imprisonment, and to ensure that people in prison are treated with dignity and respect. This expectation applies equally, and without qualification, to all people in prison.

We emphasise that the prison service has a duty to provide fair, decent and respectful provision for trans prisoners. Given the current state of the prison system, in the case of trans women prisoners, we consider that this can best be achieved through the provision of accommodation that is separate from female prisoners. We acknowledge that there may also be situations, for instance in the case of post-operative transsexual women, where different accommodation arrangements may be appropriate.

On this particular issue, we encourage the prison service to consult widely with a wide range of relevant parties, in order to consider appropriate provision for trans women prisoners.

We recognise that this is a complex area of policy and practice, with a number of different, and principled, views, perspectives and concerns, sometimes expressed strongly and emotively. We believe it is very important that differences are aired; collaborative solutions to problems sought where possible; and disagreement acknowledged and recognised respectfully. Conflict often generates opportunities for new thinking to emerge.

We do not believe there is a single or a simple answer to any of the issues relating to justice, punishment or crime. We do believe that by thinking and working through the knots of systemic injustice together, we will create new opportunities for genuinely compassionate communities.