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Prison Service: Trans Prisoners

Volume 767: debated on Tuesday 24 November 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the death of Vicky Thompson, whether they will review the Prison Service’s treatment of trans prisoners.

My Lords, I offer my condolences to Vicky Thompson’s family and friends. Every death in custody is a tragedy and we are committed to reducing their numbers. While investigations are ongoing it is inappropriate for me to comment on the circumstances of Miss Thompson’s death. The policy on the care and management of prisoners who live or propose to live in a gender other than one assigned at birth is currently under review.

I thank the Minister for that Answer. Recent events have shown that placing trans women in male estates is dangerous. Does the Minister agree that trans prisoners should be housed in the estate of their acquired gender in the first instance and moved to another estate only following a thorough investigation that rules out all other safe alternatives?

My Lords, Prison Service Instruction 07/2011 sets out the National Offender Management Service’s policy on the care and management of prisoners in the circumstances outlined by the noble Baroness. It suggests that, in the first place, somebody’s gender, whether their original gender or one that they have chosen under the Gender Recognition Act, should be reflected in where they are housed. Nevertheless, there is a degree of discretion allowed to the Prison Service, which it exercises, to make sure that someone in that situation is treated with appropriate care, consideration and sensitivity.

My Lords, mindful of the review of the current policy, what urgent steps will the Minister take to review the location of all trans people in prison and to move them to appropriate prisons according to their acquired gender, to avoid a repeat of the tragedy that befell Vicky Thompson?

The important thing is that there is no generalisation here. It is important to assess each individual prisoner according to the stage they are at and their particular case. It might be a diagnosis or they may have fully realised their gender transformation. That individual assessment is carried out by the Prison Service, involving the assistance of psychological services and healthcare experts. It is after that assessment that they should be assigned an appropriate part of a prison.

My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that the policies he just outlined apply in young offender institutions? I believe that Miss Thompson was 21 when she died and assume that she was in an adult prison, but I think it is common knowledge that people tend to become aware of their transgender nature when puberty emerges. Therefore, young offenders are particularly vulnerable and require particular care.

The noble and learned Lord makes an important point. I assure him that the policy applies throughout the prison estate and the youth estate. I entirely accept that these matters sometimes occur at an earlier stage, before somebody becomes part of the adult custodial estate. Of course, there may be many other aspects that need careful consideration apart from the problems with gender. Those can provide a real challenge to those working in the prison.

Can the Minister confirm that the guidelines to which he has just referred, PSI 07/2011, had an expiry date of 14 March 2015? Therefore, there has been an eight-month gap when those guidelines are no longer applicable because they are past their expiry date. If those guidelines are being updated, what open invitation has been given to trans support groups to help the Government update the guidelines?

The noble Lord makes what he may think is a clever point, but I refer him to paragraph 2.6 of the instruction system, on “The Approval and Implementation of Policy and Instructions”, which provides as follows:

“Regardless of expiry dates, instructions remain in force until specifically cancelled, marked ‘obsolete’ or replaced and removed from the Intranet”.

That policy does not fall into that category; it remains current.

Of more substance—of course it is very important that in formulating any change to the Prison Service instruction we take account of the trans community’s views; we are doing so, as my ministerial colleague explained in answering a question of a similar nature to the House of Commons last Friday.

My Lords, the whole House will join the Minister in expressing condolences to the family of Vicky Thompson, and also welcome the Government’s response to this tragic case and look forward to the outcome of the review that has been announced. There have been 186 suicides in prisons in the year to September, and a 21% rise in self-harm. Those statistics reflect the pressure on prisons and staff, echoed in the latest report on Feltham young offender institution. Therefore, will the Government’s review extend to the size of the prison population, and will the training of prison staff—the briefest of any comparable country—be substantially extended in time and depth?

I do not wish to pre-empt what may be considered appropriate to be considered under the review. Certainly, training would be an extremely important factor. The training has been extended to cover a specific module for prison officers to consider equality provisions, which takes into account particularly the protected characteristics of transgender prisoners. The scope of the review will embrace all things that are relevant to make sure that the Prison Service treats such prisoners appropriately. The original Prison Service instruction is an impressive document but, of course, there is room for continual improvement, and we will endeavour to arrive at an appropriate destination.

Does the Minister recognise that one difficulty under the existing system, with giving priority to legal gender, is that trans people who turn out to be offenders may be the least likely to apply for gender recognition certificates under the 2004 Act? Will the government review take that into account?

The decision to apply for a certificate is, of course, an intensely personal one. What is important is that a prisoner, or indeed anybody, should know that they have the right to do so—but it would be entirely inappropriate to in any way place pressure on somebody to go through that process. The matter is one that the Act rightly treats with great care in terms of protection of data and all the sensitive matters that it is necessary to take into account when making a momentous decision of this sort.