Transgender Prisoners: Cases Of Tara Hudson, Vicky Thomson And Joanne Latham Reveal Deepening Crisis

Fear, Persecution And Death: Why Prisons Are At Crisis Point Over Trans Inmates

On 27 October, barrister Nicholas Wragg told a court that the "clang of a prison door should never be pleasant", but for his client, it was "extraordinarily frightening".

Tara Hudson was in an all-male prison: HMP Bristol - capacity 600.

Wragg told the Bristol Crown Court that prison should have a "sobering effect" on inmates, but for Hudson it was "unrelenting and frightening". That very day, he said, other inmates had taunted her, shouting: "Tara, Tara, show us your tits."

Hudson, a transgender make-up artist who was previously known as Raymond Aaron David, was locked up with men because she didn't have a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC). Prisons assign inmates to facilities based on the gender recorded on their birth certificate, or on a GRC. The certificate alone costs £140, not including the price of medical and psychiatric reports required to obtain it.

Vicky Thompson, 21, and Joanne Latham, 38, didn't have a Gender Recognition Certificate either. Both died in suspected suicides this month while jailed in all-male prisons. Hudson earlier this month told how she was so frightened she was going to be raped while in HMP Bristol that she "thought of taking her own life".

Vicky Thompson, 21, is though to have killed herself after being sent to an all-male prison

Thomson's friends later said she had told them she would kill herself if she was sent to a male-only facility. She was found dead at Armley prison in Leeds on November 13. Latham was found dead, and is also believed to have taken her own life, at HMP Woodhill on 27 November. Research in the US suggests that around four in 10 trans people attempt to end their own lives at some point, nearly 10 times the rate for the wider population.

The deaths prompted the Government to carry out a review into the "care and management" of transgender prisoners. The National Offender Management Service has said it expects to conclude its work early next year.

Separately, the equalities minister Caroline Dinenage, has said the government hopes to issue new guidance on dealing with transgender prisoners before Christmas. Existing Ministry of Justice guidance issued in 2011 had been due to expire in March 2015, but has since been extended.

According to the Care and Management of Transsexual Prisoners guidelines, prison authorities are able to bypass the usual process of assigning prisoners by gender if a person's emotional wellbeing is a concern. Case reviews can be held to review circumstances and make recommendations.

Transgender prisoners who are "sufficiently advanced in the gender reassignment process" can also be placed "in the estate of their acquired gender, even if the law does not yet recognise they are of their acquired gender", according to the guidelines.

But although there are no statistics on the placement of transgender prisoners, the “default position” seems to be that trans women are sent to male prisons, according to the transgender activist and writer Jane Fae.

Prisoners who obtain a gender recognition certificate while in prison "should in most cases be transferred to the estate of their acquired gender", the guidance says, but Fae claims that obtaining a GRC in prison is very difficult. "If you haven't got a certificate and you want to start to transition in a prison, what you have got to do is go through 'real life experience' as the gender that you wish to identify with," she told HuffPost UK.

"If you arrive at prison not trans, and then want to transition, you get into a catch 22 because unless you are trans they might not allow you to wear makeup and female clothes."

The government is currently reviewing the way they care and manage transgender prisoners

Peers have reportedly stated they support transgender prison reform, with Baroness Barker being quoted as saying: "Recent events have shown that placing trans women in male estates is a dangerous thing."

An ongoing transgender equality inquiry is also taking place at the House of Commons, in which MPs are said to be raising concerns about transgender prisoners, and the gender recognition process in general. And a petition to impose a "legal responsibility on prison governors to ensure safe housing for trans people" has secured more than 30,000 signatures.

The review comes as a Huffington Post UK poll, conducted by YouGov, found that Britons overwhelmingly believe (68%) that transgender women prisoners should be sent to women's prisons.

Only 12% of those surveyed think a transgender woman should be sent to a men's prison. One fifth (20%) of respondents were undecided.

The government does not keep figures on the number of transgender people in prison, but estimates suggest there are at least 80 in the UK. According to the latest Ministry of Justice figures, 85,977 of the total prisoners are male and 3,935 prisoners are female.

Activist and writer Fae told the Huffington Post UK that the vast majority of trans women prisoners should be put in women's prisons: "If you look at Tara Hudson, can you imagine putting someone like that amongst a group of criminal men? You know what is going to happen to them, and the idea that we should put them anywhere other than the female estate is bonkers."

Alex Kaye from SafeT, an organisation which represents transgender people, told the BBC that he hoped the deaths of Thompson and Latham would bring about a change in the law.

"Any woman would not be happy to be in a male prison regardless of any gender identity history," he said.

Hudson's case - she was sentenced to 12 weeks jail for head-butting a bar manager while drunk in Bath city centre on Boxing Day - put the spotlight on the treatment of transgender prisoners - and helped galvanise support for change.

The 26-year-old was sent to HMP Bristol after being sentenced on October 23, but a week later appealed her sentence, hoping to be moved to a female-only jail. Protesters gathered outside the court and a petition to move her, because she was "in extreme danger of abuse, sexual violence, and even death", gathered more than 140,000 signatures.

Hudson's case sparked a wave of support from several MPs, including Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, and was taken on for free by a human rights barrister specialising in prison policy.

Farron told PinkNews at the time: "There is a clear need for a policy change in this area. It looks like the Ministry of Justice needs be dragged kicking into the 21st century.

"As I understand it, Tara has lived all her adult life as a female. I worry potential risk of harm to her in a male prison which was deemed to have levels of violence ‘considerably higher than in similar prisons’ by the prisons inspectorate.”

Tara Hudson's mother, Jackie Brooklyn, middle, and supporters outside the Bristol Crown Court

Judge Recorder Llewellyn Sellick rejected Hudson's appeal ruling that decisions about where an inmate serves their sentence is up to the Prison Service "not the court". However, he invited the service to reconsider its decision, if they had the discretion to do so.

Hudson, from Bath, was later moved to the women-only HMP Eastwood Park, South Gloucestershire, where she was on the same wing as Shauna Hoare, who was jailed for 17 years over the death of Becky Watts.

After being released from jail on 3 December, Hudson told of how difficult it was to be incarcerated at an all-male prison, having "lived my life as a female for over half a decade". She spoke out, in the hope her story would help change laws around the management of transgender prisoners.

Hudson told the BBC: "I had a lot of men trying to get me to show my breasts, I'd seen a lot of violence - it was very, very scary.

"I thought I was going to get attacked, I thought I may be raped.

"That kind of sounds dramatic but at the end of the day I've a large bust, I have bleached blonde hair, I've worked as a glamour model.

"It was not the right place for me."

Hudson told the Bath Chronicle that she was "forced into showing my breasts", and described HMP Bristol as a violent place.

She said: "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."

At HMP Bristol Hudson recalled a conversation with a prison governor where she claims she was told: "You were born a man, then you are a male. Horfield don't want you, Eastwood Park (women's prison) don't want you."

While relieved to have been moved from the all-male prison to a female one, Hudson said the discrimination continued as she was placed in the "hospital wing" and was not let out of her cell when fellow female prisoners were around for the first three days. She said she was on lockdown 23-hours a day.

Hudson told the Chronicle that the wing was "mostly for people with psychosis, rare illnesses and mental problems or who have had a lot of media attention. It was like the safety wing."

She said: "The other people that we were locked up with had mental problems. I shouldn't have been put in that wing, nothing was normal about it.

Hudson was initially put in an all-male prison, but was later transferred to a female only facility

"The only mental illness I have ever had is depression. I was put there just because I'm transgender.

"At the end of the day I didn't choose to be transgender, but in the eyes of the law I was still being treated as someone like a schizophrenic."

Hudson told the BBC that her "heart dropped" when she heard about the deaths of Thompson and Latham because, "I knew what those girls went through".

She said: "I would have done the same I think.

"I didn't ask to be transgender, they didn't ask to be transgender - we were all thrown into the situation that made our lives complete hell."

Hudson warned: "If something doesn't change soon then there will be more deaths".

She told the broadcaster that she knew nothing of the campaign launched to have her moved from HMP Bristol, and said she felt "humbled" when she found out.

Hudson said: "It meant people on the outside recognised who I was, they knew I'm female and I'd lived my life a female.

"That support has made me feel like I am a woman."

Useful websites and helplines:

  • The Gender Trust supports anyone affected by gender identity | 01527 894 838
  • Mermaids offers information, support, friendship and shared experiences for young people with gender identity issues | 0208 1234819
  • LGBT Youth Scotland is the largest youth and community-based organisation for LGBT people in Scotland. Text 07786 202 370
  • Gires provides information for trans people, their families and professionals who care for them | 01372 801554
  • Depend provides support, advice and information for anyone who knows, or is related to, a transsexual person in the UK

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