UK opens first transgender-only prison unit for men in women's prison

Prison fence
(Photo: / Prison Fellowship) |

A women’s prison near London will open what has been referred to as Europe’s first prison unit exclusively for men who identify as women.

Three trans-identified prisoners who've legally changed their gender will be the first residents of the new wing at Downview women’s prison in Surrey, where they will not have access to any other inmates.

The unit will have 15 single cells and one cell with two beds. The new unit is big enough to house about 20 prisoners.

The new unit comes in light of reported sexual assaults in women’s prisons at the hands of men which has forced the government to review its policies allowing trans-identified inmates to serve in women’s prisons.

“Prisoner safety is our biggest concern and any decisions we take will seek to best manage the risks posed by each offender,” a British Ministry of Justice spokesperson said in a statement.

According to The Sunday Times, the new unit will be housed inside a building that was previously named after Victorian-era feminist Josephine Butler.

"The wider management of transgender offenders is a highly sensitive issue which poses unique and complex challenges and we are determined to get it right,” the Ministry of Justice spokesperson added.

Andrea Albutt, the president of the Prison Governors Association, told the newspaper that the unit's success depends on how effectively female prisoners can be protected.

The outlet reports that about 50 percent of the British trans-identified prison population are sex offenders.

'They're going to have to have some kinds of safeguards to make sure that a Karen White event doesn't happen again,” Albutt is quoted as saying. “That is the number one priority.”

White is a 52-year-old trans-identified biological male who was imprisoned for raping women. Born to the name Stephen Wood, White was moved to a women’s prison after identifying as a woman.

Within a week of being moved to a women’s prison, White sexually assaulted female inmates. White is accused of using a “transgender persona” to get access to vulnerable women. White was sentenced to life in prison for his crimes.

White’s actions sparked a review of the prison guidelines that called for trans-identified prisoners to “experience the system in the gender in which they identify.”

“New guidelines will be published shortly to ensure that [the policy] continues to strike the right balance between ensuring that all female prisoners are kept safe [and] that transgender prisoners have their rights respected,” Justice Minister Ed Argar said earlier this month.

Last year, the Ministry of Justice stated that at least one-third of prisons in England and Wales housed at least one transgender inmate. According to the data, 15 jails had at least one transgender prisoner, 18 had at least two to four, and 11 had at least five.

The Prison and Probation Ombudsman reports that about one-fifth of women who died in prison over the last two years were actually men who identified as women. As Yahoo reports, six people who self-identified as women died in custody between 2016 and 2018.

Male inmates who identify as a female can be at risk inside men’s prisons.

In the United States, one trans-identified prisoner claimed to have been sexually and physically attacked inside four Illinois men’s prisons. The inmate was eventually moved to a women’s prison as a result.

In 2016, a trans-identified inmate in Doncaster, England, committed suicide inside a men’s prison following complaints of bullying.

According to reports, transgender-only units are not expected to become a trend in prisons across the U.K. because the Downview was created to deal with the “unique risks” that the three inmates who will live there have to deal with.

The U.K. government has also reviewed transgender policies in other areas.

On Monday, it was announced that the U.K. National Health Service is reviewing policies that would allow transgender patients to be cared for in women’s wards so long as they have legally changed their gender.

The British government also launched an investigation into why there has been a 4,000 percent increase in children seeking to transition to the opposite sex in the last 10 years.

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

or Facebook: SamuelSmithCP

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