Judicial review case: Transgender rapist accused of sexual assault in prison

Silhouette image via Wikimedia Commons

The Sunday Times reports an application to the High Court for judicial review of government policy regarding the incarceration of male prisoners convicted of violent and/or sexual offences within the female prison estate, without adequately protecting female prisoners.

The application is being brought by a female prisoner who made an allegation of sexual assault against a male prisoner who identifies as a transgender woman. The trans-identified male prisoner was incarcerated in a female prison despite being convicted of the rape of a woman. No further details of this offence are currently available.

In 2018, another trans-identified male rapist, Karen White, was transferred to a male prison after being convicted of sexually assaulting two female prisoners in a women’s prison (HMP New Hall) and two similar offences against two other female prisoners were ordered to remain on file. White was jailed for life at Leeds Crown Court in October 2018 and must serve a minimum of nine-and-a-half years for rape, sexual assault and wounding.

The action was lodged in the High Court on 21 October 2019 by Birnberg Peirce, a civil rights law firm with a track record of defending women’s human rights and ensuring that the police, Ministry of Justice and other state authorities are held accountable for their actions.

Shortly after the victim made the sexual assault allegation, she was moved to a different prison only to find her assailant had also been moved to the same prison and would be sharing accommodation. Her application to the High Court also challenges government policy on a unit at HMP Downview (a female prison) which is intended to accommodate trans-identified male prisoners who present an unmanageable risk.

Following the Karen White case, The Sunday Times reported in February 2019 that the prison service is to stop many transgender inmates, including sex offenders, serving their sentences in women’s prisons. The justice minister Ed Argar was quoted as saying that the government was “revising” guidelines that said the “great majority” of trans prisoners should be allowed to “experience the system in the gender in which they identify”.

In July 2019, the annual report by the chief inspector of prisons revealed that a survey of 5,133 British prisoners found two per cent (one in 50) self-identified as transgender or transsexual – four times higher than the Government’s equalities office estimate that 0.5 per cent of the general population are transgender. Extrapolated across the entire prison population this would be around 1,500 trans-identified prisoners. Freedom of Information requests to the Ministry of Justice by the BBC revealed in 2018 that 60 of the 125 (48%) transgender inmates in England and Wales were serving time for a sexual offence, including 27 who were convicted of rape (plus a further five of attempted rape). This proportion of 48%, or almost 1 in 2, is far higher than the sentenced prison population as a whole, where 1 in 5 or 19% are incarcerated for sexual offences.

This thread contains useful context on the Danish prison system which attempted mixed sex prisons but – unsurprisingly – found the risk incarcerated males posed was unmanageable, with high levels of abuse of women prisoners. This article and this one report that Denmark will be reverting to sex-segregated prisons by 2021.

Media reports

Sunday Times https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/female-prisoner-takes-government-to-court-after-alleged-assault-by-transgender-inmate-n5wtg2nf7 (time-limited share token link here)

Sunday Times https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/prisons-to-get-transgender-wings-6b2xpr88g