The impact of proposed transgender law changes on UK prisons

If government reforms of the Gender Recognition Act are made law it will have dangerous consequences within the UK prison service. Self-identification of legal gender will mean any male prisoner will be able to change his legal sex to female and become eligible for transfer into a women’s prison.


FPFW has written a number of articles on the topic of transgender people in prison:

After Karen White: What Is The Government Doing To Make Sure Women In Prison Never Get Attacked By A Male Inmate Ever Again?

Annual transgender prisoner numbers and location: 2018 analysis.

Sex attacks: Government must investigate attacks on women by transgender prisoners

Government figures back Fair Play’s report on transgender offenders

Transgender prison study: Half of all trans prisoners are sex offenders or cat A prisoners

Written submission to the Justice Select Committee Inquiry on Prison Planning: Impact of GRA reforms

GRA reforms and the impact on women-only probation hostels

Self-inflicted deaths of transgender prisoners: are they being used to promote a politic agenda?

Interview on Good Morning Britain about risks of GRA reforms for women’s prisons

Victoria Derbyshire show discussing case of male rapist allowed into womens prison


The issues in brief

At the moment male prisoners who identify as transgender but are still legally male are assessed on a case-by-case basis if they ask to be relocated to women’s prisons. A transgender review board assesses the validity and safety of any transfer request and can say no to a transfer. This same gate-keeping process happens in the prison service for England and Wales (HMPPS) and Scotland (SPS). If transfer is not approved the trans-identified male prisoner is supported to live in role as a woman within the male prison.

If a male prisoner obtains legal gender recognition and is legally female the prison service is obliged to treat them just like any other female. This means they must be located in a women’s prison. They can only be held in a male prison if they are deemed too dangerous to be safely contained. Women’s prisons are not designed for extremely dangerous prisoners and most are equivalent to closed low security male prisons or open prisoners. The highest security women’s prison is Bronzefield and currently holds only 17 women in a restricted status wing. If a woman was ever considered too dangerous for restricted status they can be moved to women’s unit within a top security category A male prison. There are currently no women prisoners this dangerous.  This rule applies to any female – biological women or legally female trans-gender prisoners.

It is often suggested that this rule will be enough to protect women prisoners from the most dangerous male-born prisoners if changes in the law mean that legal gender change becomes quick and easy. However, this will only block the transfer of the most exceptionally dangerous prisoners. We already know that this safety measure has failed. We know of two male-born prisoners (Jessica Winfield; child rapist) and (Paris Green; murderer) who were placed into women’s prisons and subsequently sexually assaulted the women there. In most cases, male-born prisoners will have to be transferred to women’s prisons once they obtain a female birth certificate. They cannot be deemed more of a safety risk simply because they were born male.

Is it right that women prisoners should be forced to live with male-born prisoners? Most women in prison have been victims of male domestic violence and sexual abuse. Is it right that female prison guards will be required to carry out intimate body searches on physically male prisoners (most of whom will retain a penis) just because they say they are now female? Is it right that male-born prisoners will be allowed to live under supervision in probation hostels with women after they are released from prison?

Self-identification of legal gender is dangerous and makes bad law. It must be opposed and the UK and Scottish governments must take this seriously. It is not enough to say that other countries have made the change and there is no problem. In Ireland, where self-identification of legal gender was introduced in 2015, they only locate prisoners according to their biological sex and not legal gender. This has inadvertently protected women prisoners from a potential flood of male-born prisoners demanding access to the female estate. The same will not be true for the UK.

The UK government doesn’t even know accurate figures for how many transgender prisoners they already have in prisons. The current estimate of 125 is self-reported by prisoners and prison governors. They do not know the criminal profiles of these trans-identified prisoners so how can they possibly assess the risk of any policy change in this area? It is also impossible to know how many prisoners will fake it to abuse the system just to get access to women.