Failures in the management of transgender prison policy in Ireland

If you haven’t muted or blocked me on Twitter, you’ll be aware of my more than passing interest in the interaction of women’s rights and the rights of transgender people in various contexts. In an atmosphere of continued unjust vilification of women seeking to have responsible discussions on the reconciliation of rights, I make no apology for this. Occasionally, threads come tumbling that are more suited to a long form format, so I’m hoping to gather up some of those here in a bid to give them some semblance of coherence and file them away before I finally flounce out of twitter for good with or without the proverbial petticoat. I’m more of a smoking jacket person anyway. Or dressing gown, as it’s less glamorously known.

Below is a response to the management of prison policy in the context of two prisoners recently transferred to the women’s section in Limerick Prison. Public discussion is scarce and there is an intensifying reluctance on the part of the media to highlight concerns in relation to failures regarding the rights and dignity of all concerned. More on that later.

Here, I respond to a statement from Limerick Feminist Network who responded to The Limerick Leader who responded to an article by Gript, a conservative leaning publication and one of few outlets that has addressed an issue mainstream and Left leaning press has all but abandoned save for directives to Be Kind and warnings on usage of incorrect pronouns. The statement from Limerick Feminist Network is as follows:

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The vulnerability and immense trauma suffered by the young person concerned is established and not in doubt. No-one is disputing the need for appropriate protection, treatment and rehabilitation. Where the conflict lies is the interaction of certain mental health diagnoses with a crude and unrefined gender-based policy, how that policy is subsequently balanced with equality legislation exemptions for females on the basis of sex, rather than gender, and managed.

These conflicts have been raised by the Chair of the Law Society Criminal Law Committee who has publicly stated the Gender Recognition Act has “placed the state in an impossible position with regard to transgender prisoners”. Necessary checks and balances to ensure these balancing of rights were not undertaken prior to implementing the Gender Recognition Act in 2015.

I shared the anger over the leak from the Garda data base (Pulse) system giving details about this individual and believe it was a breach of confidentiality, however there is enough information available in the public domain through the court report that falls within the bounds of reasonable reporting guidelines.

We know there are currently two male-bodied individuals housed in the women’s prison. Neither has undergone hormonal treatment or gender reassignment surgery.

The first individual obtained a Gender Recognition Cert whilst in custody. It is an administrative formality that requires no supporting evidence or period of notice for changing ‘gender’, which is currently used interchangeably with ‘sex’. This individual is serving a prison sentence for a series of sexual assaults and child cruelty. Due to the clear and present risk posed to females, the person is accompanied 24/7.

The second individual continues to make explicit threats to rape and murder women. The Tavistock Gender Clinic made a determination based on a clinical assessment that the individual was not exhibiting symptoms of gender dysphoria but is suffering a mental health trauma. Despite this, the individual is housed in the female prison. Due to the clear and present risk posed to females, the person is accompanied 24/7.

The request to be housed in the women’s facility was made by both individuals and granted solely on having a Gender Recognition Certificate. This simple administrative action carries considerable power and continues to override all other concerns. These include the protection, treatment and rehabilitation of females.

It is generally understood and accepted that female prisoners are among the most vulnerable women in society. Many are survivors of physical and sexual violence. This is borne out in multiple and reliable evidence and studies.

A number of dismissive responses have been forthcoming:

“There is already violence in female prisons anyway

This is a fact but drawing a false equivalence between internal female violence and male sexual violence against women is disingenuous and a form of gas-lighting.

“They are always locked up & accompanied

Whatever about the inhumanity of solitary confinement, it is contemptuous of women to dismiss the impact of the presence of male bodies in a female only facility, particularly when they are acutely aware of the nature of the crimes committed and threats posed by these individuals. The interaction of this with their pre-existing trauma from sexual and physical violence is clinically catastrophic, re-victimising, cruel and an indignity forced on them in the name of dignifying the perpetrators only.

“There were no concerns before the Brit TERFs got wind of it

TERF is an acronym for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists and has its roots in radical feminist discourse with overlaps into lesbian feminist clashes concerning gender and inclusion of trans women. It is generally recognised as a slur in contemporary discussion and deliberately deployed as such against a diverse group of women with competing feminist views who share broad and legitimate concerns about gender self-ID policy ranging from definitions of sex, gender, woman and lesbianism, parity in sport, legally protected single-sex spaces, data collection, and child safe-guarding. (I’ll return to the preposterous suggestion Irish women are no less diverse and ‘in service’ to British women another time.)

A number of women and men have been forthright in raising concerns about these policies for over three years. Women in particular have been vilified and ridiculed despite addressing the issues dispassionately on an evidence basis. Mounting evidence on the impact of the mental health of females from male-bodies in prison is emerging, particularly from Canada and the UK where multiple assaults have occurred. The need to challenge media that exploits these rising incidences to sensationalise, stigmatise and negatively stereotype a minority community remains, but is not incompatible with the responsibility to interrogate the implication of policy and how policy is exploited by those presenting as members of that vulnerable community.

“No-one should be in prison anyway whoever they are

That’s a very laudable objective shared by many but it is independent of appraising the impact of current prison policy on both women and trans people.

Our feminism is inclusive and free from the fatal grip of Catholicism” etc.

That from the same people who also claim…

“It should be left to the authorities on a case by case basis

It is the context of historical and contemporary contempt shown to women by the state through various public policies from health, pregnancy and reproduction, the justice system and sexual violence, and state incarceration, that demands all policies are interrogated and scrutinised in a way that appraises how the needs, consent, and protection of women are met.

Clearly the state is not to be trusted to be ‘left’ with managing these policies. As evidenced by the concern from legal quarters, prison reform bodies, victims groups, and swathes of women across Ireland who are asserting their right to speak up and challenge it.

Screams of TERF and trojan horse are sounding increasingly outlandish. Concerns do not undermine the rights of trans people. They raise the flaws of policy and how it is ultimately failing everyone involved here including trans people.

Feminism is not an Irish movement. It is a global movement concerned with the liberation of women from patriarchal systems including overt rejection of physical and sexual violence in all its manifestations. Like Irishness, it transcends national boundaries & permission for participation.

The feminism and humanity in the urgency to address these issues responsibly speaks for itself and requires no further explanation or defence. It is not at odds with the humanity and compassion for any vulnerable individuals involved. That means everyone involved.