Separate transgender unit to be set up at UK prison for first time

Will Metcalfe
The UK’s first transgender prison unit is set to open in Surrey’s HMP Downview.

Female transgender prisoners will be housed separately from other inmates at a prison in Surrey for the first time in the UK.

A wing at HMP Downview, in Sutton, will be used to hold three transgender prisoners without access to other inmates, Sky News reports.

The three women hold gender recognition certificates, meaning their gender transition is legally recognised.

Usually transgender prisoners are housed according to their legally-recognised gender, unless there are exceptional circumstances.

Howerver, the MoJ said the move will not be national and is due to the status of three inmates at the Surrey jail.

Reports claim the move is not expected to be rolled out across the UK and is instead aimed at dealing with the “unique risks” posed in the case of the three women at HMP Downview.

A Ministry of Justice (MoJ) spokesman said: “Prisoner safety is our biggest concern and any decisions we take will seek to best manage the risks posed by each offender.

“The wider management of transgender offenders is a highly sensitive issue which poses unique and complex challenges and we are determined to get it right.”

They confirmed the government would review the management of transgender inmates and said the work is “ongoing”.

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A report by the MoJ last year revealed more than a third of prisons in England and Wales hold at least one transgender prisoner.

At the time, there were 139 prisoners presenting as a gender different from the one they were assigned at birth.

However, this data was thought to exclude those who had a full gender recognition certificate.

Transgender inmate Karen White was accused of four sexual assaults against other inmates between September and November last year at New Hall women’s prison, before being moved to a male prison.

She was on remand for multiple rapes and other sexual offences against women.

Nearly a fifth of women who died in prison over the last two years were transgender, according to figures from the Prison and Probation Ombudsman.

Between 2016 and 2018, six people who self-identified as women died in custody.

In 2016, transgender inmate Jenny Swift killed herself at a male prison, following complaints of bullying by prison staff.

Nicola Cope died at female prison Foston Hall in the same year, while inmates Joanna Latham and Vikki Thompson also died of apparent suicide at male prisons in 2015.

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