By Nicola Williams, Spokeswoman for Fair Play for Women
I’m a scientist, so facts matter to me. At Fair Play for Women, we use hard data and proven facts to defend women and their rights. Knowing that the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act would allow any male prisoner to change the sex on his birth certificate to female and become eligible for transfer to a women’s prison, we wanted to examine the data that would help us evaluate, as a society, how this would affect female inmates.
Women prisoners are vulnerable. Many have suffered male violence or sexual abuse as children and attempted suicide or self-harm. Yes, they have committed crimes (mostly non-violent), but that is no justification for exposing them to sexual violence. They would have no choice but to be imprisoned with predatory, sexually violent men if such men — whether they had gender dysphoria or not — chose to say “I am a woman now”
You might imagine that an issue so crucial to the safety of the female prison population — which has become urgent in light of the proposed GRA changes — would have been the subject of a nationwide, evidence-based, government study. But you’d be wrong. When I asked the Ministry of Justice for the relevant facts, they wouldn’t produce them. Even my MP was stonewalled when he raised a parliamentary question on the matter. The MoJ couldn’t answer even the most basic questions: how many trans prisoners are already held in the female estate? What crimes have they committed? How dangerous are they? And how many transgender males could be eligible for transfer to a women’s prison?
The MoJ’s lack of curiosity about these questions was troubling, to say the very least. How could it do even a basic risk assessment without the facts?
Yet despite this apparent hole where the objective data should be, it appears that the Prison Service has already made a policy decision to house transgender prisoners in “the right [sic] prison”.
“Following a thorough review last year, we have improved the way we manage transgender offenders. Our priority, reflected in the new policy, is to make sure that wherever possible transgender prisoners start in the right prison and don’t have to be moved at a later date.” Yvette Farrell (Equalities, Interventions and Operational Practice Group HMPPS).
How did they reach that decision? And why the secrecy over data, methodology, risk assessments and reasoning if this policy change has already taken place?
At the end of last year, we realised that if the authorities wouldn’t produce the data, we would have to find it ourselves. That meant reading the official public records of all the prisons in the UK — hundreds of reports, thousands and thousands of pages. Undaunted, our army of Fair Play For Women volunteers from all over the country rolled up their sleeves and got down to work.
Finally we found our answers. Our findings gave the UK, for the first time ever, a countrywide snapshot of the demographic of transgender offenders. Our conclusions should be taken very seriously indeed. We found that half of the transgender prisoners are housed in sex offender institutions or maximum security prisons. These are the prisoners who could become eligible for transfer to women’s prisons under a regime of sex self-ID.
The moment we published our study, the media ran with it. Having spent my career analysing data behind the scenes, I was suddenly in the spotlight. My face was on TV and my voice on the radio. I realised that many people wouldn’t want to hear what the data had revealed, but knew the time had come to put my head above the parapet.
What I wasn’t prepared for were the vitriolic emotional responses and unsubstantiated personal attacks on my integrity. One supporter of sex self-ID and non-binary trans campaigner, Owl Fisher, wrote a defamatory newspaper article, full of inaccuracies, in the Independent newspaper, accusing me of ‘guesswork and fearmongering’. Worryingly, the Independent is one of the few national newspapers that has not signed up the Independent Press Standard Organisation (IPSO) so this damaging and unreliable attempt to debunk my study remains on-line. We have now instructed lawyers to have the article removed.
The Sunday Times article reporting our study findings was also attacked and found itself under investigation after a complaint made to the Press Ombudsman. The complaint has been fully rejected by IPSO who recognised the importance of our research “This was a matter of significant public interest, particularly in the absence of official figures on the issue”.
I am certain that the report we produced is the best analysis possible of current MoJ data. I challenge anyone to produce a more thorough and accurate review of the data that exists. And should any other data exist, beyond the official records we used in our research, we ask for it to be published. What we now need is for the government to prioritise collecting credible, consistent and transparent nationwide data that allows British people to see the impact of self-identification of sex on the female prison population over time.
The far-reaching implications of Fair Play’s work have still not been fully taken on board by the political establishment or the prison service despite them being made fully aware of our information. We have submitted our findings as written evidence to the Justice Select committee’s Inquiry into Prison Planning. Meetings have been requested with prison officials including the head of the Prison Governors Association and others. No response has been forthcoming.
In the meantime, our data has gradually been substantiated. Six months after I first submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Ministry of Justice, most of our figures have been vindicated.
Not long after Fair Play For Women published its study the MoJ confirmed that there were 125 transgender prisoners in England and Wales.
This confirmed that our calculation of 113, based on the evidence we found was absolutely valid and was, as we had predicted, a conservative figure.
The MoJ acknowledge their own figures are likely to underestimate the true number. There may be some transgender prisoners who have a Gender Recognition Certificate who will not be counted. Once a male prisoner gets a female birth certificate they not only become eligible to live in women’s prisons they are no longer counted as a transgender prisoner and disappear into the figure for the female estate. Proposed changes to the GRA will allow prisoners to change their birth certificate on demand so the presence of male-born offenders in women’s prisons will effectively become invisible.
The MoJ figures include the ‘reported gender’ of the transgender prisoners, with 99 reporting their gender as male. The MoJ does not know if this is a prisoner’s birth sex or their preferred gender identity. Without knowing this distinction the information is meaningless. We still have no official figures from the MoJ confirming how many are male-born.
New data release for MALE prisons:
FOI requests submitted at the end of 2017 have now at last been answered, in May 2018, six months later than the expected 28 days. We now know that there are no female-born prisoners in any male prisons. So this means that the 100 transgender prisoners confirmed by the MoJ to be living in the male estate must all be male-born inmates who identify as women. This confirms precisely what we reported last year and completely validates the approach and reliability of our study.
|All Male prisons||100||100|
|Isle of Wight*||10||10|
* specialist sex offender prison
For data protection reasons the MoJ would only provide exact figures on individual prisons if there were more than five transgender prisons housed there. Nevertheless, even this limited data confirms that there are at least 34 male-born transgender prisoners in just four of the specialist sex offender prisons.
We reported an additional ten in the remaining sex offender prisons that the MoJ did not provide figures for (because they house fewer than 5 trans prisoners) making a total of 44 male-born transgender prisoners. We stand by those figures despite the MoJ’s reluctance to verify them.
The MoJ also revealed that 18 transgender prisoners are housed in Category A maximum security prisons. This is double the minimum estimate of nine identified by Fair Play For Women.
The MoJ’s most recent response to our FOI requests mean that we now have incontrovertible official confirmation that a minimum of 52 of the 125 transgender prisoners (40%) are either held in sex offender or maximum security prisons. This does not include any data from individual prisons that hold fewer than six trans prisoners or any male-born transgender prisoners who have already obtained a female birth certificate, so this 40% figure will likely be much higher in reality. If the MoJ would reveal a complete set of figures, members of the public would be able to see for themselves exactly how much higher this is.
Transactivists claim our study conclusions are seriously flawed because we have assumed that all the transgender prisoners are held in specialist sex offender prisons because they are sex offenders.
They claim that they might be there simply because they are very vulnerable. Indeed 2% of the Littlehey prison population (1200) is reserved for prisoners who would be at high risk of being killed or very seriously injured by other prisoners; such as ex-prison guards or ex-police etc. However, the vast majority of vulnerable prisoners, including some transgender prisoners, are housed in the vulnerable prisoner wing within their own prisons. Being held at Littlehey as a vulnerable prisoner would be the last resort, reserved only for very exceptional cases due to the very high added cost of housing prisoners in a specialist sex offender prison.
The sex offender population of HMP Isle of Wight makes up 98% of the total (of 1000 inmates). The remaining 2% (equivalent to 20 prisoners) are local residents on remand held at that prison for reasons of convenience. While it is possible that all 10 of the transgender prisoners confirmed by the MoJ might indeed be locals on remand and not sex offenders, this is statistically extremely unlikely.
Of course, none of this needs to remain unknown. The MoJ could easily confirm how many of the 34 transgender prisoners they cite are convicted of sex offences by simply contacting the Governors of 4 prisons. We urge them to do so immediately.
Note: Only half of the total sex offender prison population (13,000) is actually held in specialist sex offender establishments. The other half of convicted sex offenders, including any transgender sex offenders, will be held in vulnerable prison wings in standard prisons and not counted in our study. As such our figures are a minimum estimate and likely to be very much higher.
New data released for Female prisons:
|All Female prisons||25||13|
|East Sutton Park||0-5||0|
The MoJ has also revealed that a total of 25 transgender prisoners are being held within the female estate. This is actually double the number estimated in the Fair Play For Women study. At least 18 of these 25 trans prisoners are held in three women’s prisons, two of which are closed prisons while one (Bronzefield) is a high security prison (known as restricted status). We know at that one of the trans prisoners in Bronzefield is Jessica Winfield (a double child rapist serving a 23 year sentence).
The MoJ have been asked how many of these transgender prisoners were born male and how many are still fully male-bodied with a penis but say they ‘do not hold this information’. Either the MoJ have failed to collect relevant data on the number and status of male prisoners in female prisons, or they are being deliberately evasive. Either way it is a shameful dereliction of their duty. How can the impact on women prisoners been assessed without this most basic information?
Transactivists claim that prisons will have ‘risk assessments’ in place to make sure any ‘dangerous’ male prisoners won’t be allowed to harm women. They claim that existing prison regulations already allow dangerous women to be moved out into a male prison and these same rules will apply to transwomen so there is no problem – we are just scaremongering.
While it is true that prison regulations do allow dangerous women to be removed to a male prison, this is only used if a women’s prison is unable to contain them securely and a maximum security prison is required (Category A). Women’s prisons are not designed for extremely dangerous prisoners and most are equivalent to closed low security male prisons or open prisons. The highest security women’s prison is Bronzefield which currently holds only 17 women in a restricted status wing (compared with over 4000 male prisoners held at Category A). The MoJ has confirmed following a Freedom of Information request that restricted status is lower security to Category A. It has also confirmed that there are currently no female prisoners considered so dangerous that they have to be housed in a male prison.
There may be exceptional cases where it is necessary to refuse a transfer to the female estate for a transgender (male to female) prisoner with a GRC. This can only happen if the risk concerns surrounding the prisoner are sufficiently high that other women with an equivalent security profile would also be held in the male estate.
Since we have no current examples of women deemed too dangerous for the women’s estate we have no benchmark of what an equivalent security profile for a transgender prisoner would be. What we do know, however, is that the male-born transgender prisoner and double child rapist, Jessica Winfield, was not considered too dangerous for a women’s prison and is currently serving their 23 year sentence at Bronzefield prison. Winfield was reportedly moved temporarily into isolation last year for sexually assaulting other inmates.
If the risk management procedures are failing now with only 25 trans prisoners to manage in women’s prisons they clearly need serious review. This must happen before a law is implemented that would allow any of the ~80,000 male prisoners in England and Wales the freedom to get a female birth certificate on-demand and become eligible for a women’s prison.
This has not been easy work, but we have carried on because women in prison — and women everywhere — have a right to demand that the policy of ‘self-identified sex’ is properly debated. There are numerous potential risks to women and girls that must be assessed on the basis of sound evidence and rational debate.
Personally, I remain haunted by a comment made by the president of the British Association of Gender Identity Specialists (an association highly sympathetic to trans people since it represents the majority of clinicians working in Gender Identity Clinics in the British Isles), Dr James Barrett, in his written submission to the government’s Transgender Equality Inquiry in 2015:
“It has been rather naïvely suggested that nobody would seek to pretend transsexual status in prison… In one well evidencesdcase a highly concerned Prison Governor brought particularly to my attention a plethora of prison intelligence information suggesting that the driving force was a desire to make subsequent sexual offending very much easier.”
Of equal concern was Dr Barrett’s observation that medical doctors enabling a prisoner’s transition, in a climate where professional dissent is effectively discouraged and even silenced, might indirectly become accessories to crimes against women:
“The worrying prisoner [a predatory sex offender] described in the paragraph above would be in a position to oblige medical practitioners to advance a plan the basis of which is the facilitation of subsequent sexual assault.”
His warning has been amplified this week, as other prison experts have voiced their concerns in response to the new freedom of information data and the article published in the Mail on Sunday.
Andrea Albutt, Head of the Prison Governors Association said “Women prisoners are very vulnerable. A lot have abusive men in their lives, who are part of the reason they have ended up in prison. To put all men who declare they are women into women’s prisons would be very damaging”
Frances Crook, Executive Director of the Howard League for Penal Reform said “some men with a history of extreme violence and sexual violence against women have found a new way of exercising aggression towards women. These men are not transitioning because they like women and want to be a woman, but in order to exert a new kind of control and dominance of women, a sort of infiltration”.
The purpose of Fair Play for Women’s study, in the face of a wall of institutional silence and a reluctance to produce objective and comprehensive data, was to show how the Ministry of Justice’s passive approach to male-born prisoners who are, or might become, transgender potentially places women in the prison system in serious danger.
Above all, Fair Play for Women has sought to catalyse change in the Ministry of Justice and the Prison Service: to shake these agencies out of their insouciant, laissez-faire approach to women prisoners’ rights and needs, and to challenge them to produce their own robust, transparent and methodologically sound studies based on facts. We would welcome the chance to evaluate the research and methodologies of any national reports or risk assessments the MoJ or HMPPS produce on transgender prisoners. But in the absence of thorough, nationwide, government-backed research, our report remains the most comprehensive, reliable and up-to-date UK study of transgender offenders in the detention system. It is now up to the government to raise the bar — to demand more of itself, and to insist on far higher standards throughout its agencies with respect to recording, evaluating and disclosing information on transgender offenders.
It is unconscionable that the MoJ would generate an isolated policy to protect transgender prisoners’ welfare without first conducting a comprehensive and transparent national risk-assessment to ensure women prisoners’ welfare is equally protected.
Data isn’t transphobic. Evidence isn’t hateful. Facts aren’t bigoted. It’s a fact that men who abuse women have already broken the rules: why would anyone want to change the rules to make it easier for them to do it again?