A comprehensive review of the transgender prisoner policy is currently being undertaken by the Department of Corrections. Minister Anne Tolley says “potential changes to the Corrections Regulations are being worked through which would enhance the management of transgender prisoners in our prisons.”
In a letter to Roxanne Peoples-Henare and Racheal McGonigal of the Group Transsexuals of New Zealand, the Minister of Corrections states that her department has worked hard to address the issues faced by transgender prisoners in New Zealand.
“While there are only a small number of prisoners in New Zealand who identify as transgender, I acknowledge that they are a vulnerable group with highly complex needs. Although it is widely recognised that the mangement of transgender prisoners is a complicated issue, Corrections has worked hard in recent years to ensure their safety and dignity is protected while they are in prison,” she says.
Tolley makes mention of the report released by the Office of the Ombudsman and the concerns raised concerning the management of transgender prisoners, recommending that Corrections review their policy concerning placement of prisoners. Under current corrections policy prisoners are housed in a prison according to the sex recorded at birth unless they have undergone full sex reassignment surgery leaving transgender inmates vulnerable and susceptible to abuse.
The report stated: “Transgender prisoners are particularly vulnerable to abuse and/or sexual assault, in part because of the general policy of housing them according to their birth gender, regardless of their current appearance or gender identity. A Health Centre Manager said, ‘abuse (of transgender prisoners) goes unrecorded in male prisons.’”
Tolley says: “As a result the Department has been undertaking a comprehensive review of its transgender prisoner policy. This work has included a review of relevant academic research and an analysis of how similar international jurisdictions manage transgender prisoners,”
“Any change in policy requires Corrections to balance the right of transgender prisoners to be managed, safely, humanely and with dignity, with the needs to protect the rights and safety of female prisoners. It is important that very careful consideration must be given before placing a transgender prisoner who is anatomically a male into a female prison to ensure the safety of all prisoners involved.”
Tolley ends the letter by stating: “This work is now nearing completion and potential changes to the Corrections Regulations are being worked through which would enhance the management of transgender prisoners in our prisons.”
In February 2012 Green MP Jan Logie questioned Tolley as to whether she agreed with the finding of the Chief Ombudsman that ‘transgender prisoners are particularly vulnerable to abuse and/or sexual assault’.
Tolley replied “Yes to verbal abuse, as are many prisoners, but no to sexual assault. All prisoners are assessed for safety and security on a case-by-case basis,” and went on to say that she is advised that only five out of a total of 8500 prisoners identify as transgender.”
Logie then asked “In light of the Ombudsman’s report that says ‘abuse (of transgender prisoners) goes unrecorded in male prisons’, what actions will you take to ensure transgender prisoners’ safety?”
To which Tolley replied: “My understanding is that the Ombudsman spoke to only one transgender prisoner and I am advised that there is no evidence of widespread sexual assault.”
Logie says the letter recieved by Peoples-Henare and McGonigal is similar to the responses she has been met with first in mid-April and again in July. ”I see Rachael has also been told by the Department of Corrections that the review is complete and they anticipate amendment regulations will be made and in force by November this year,” she says.
“The government has a duty of care to ensure the safety of all prisoners and we know that currently trans prisoners who haven’t had surgery are at risk of sexual abuse. That needs to be rectified as quickly as possible because it is completely unacceptable.”
| Sarah Murphy