The alleged rape of a transgender inmate now has the Minister of Corrections signaling a possible change to the way the prison system deals with those identifying as a different gender to prisoners they are locked up with.
The Minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga wouldn't go as far as backing the Department of Corrections policy for the handling of transgender inmates after what appear to be two serious blunders this year.
The minister and the prison system are under fire over the case of the Wiri prison inmate who allegedwas raped after being placed in the mainstream prison population. The inmate's family have told the Herald she began hormone replacement therapy as the first step towards gender reassignment after being sent to prison and had been kept away from other prisoners for her safety.
But last week she was transferred into the mainstream prison population at Wiri, a facility managed by Serco, and alleged she was raped overnight by the cellmate with whom she was double-bunked. Police are investigating but no charges have yet been laid.
Mr Lotu-Iiga would not comment on the case being investigated by police bhut described the policy on transgender prisoners as "fairly new", having come in during February last year.
"If it is proven to be failing to keep transgender prisoners safe then I will seek advice on how it may be changed to ensure it does."
The alleged rape followed an apology from Corrections to Jade Follett, a transgender inmate who faced down threats from inmates in Rimutaka prison before gaining a transfer to a women's prison. Corrections denied she sought a transfer then admitted her written request had not been filed by a guard who then went on holiday.
A spokeswoman for the lobby group No Pride In Prisons said the department wasn't putting transwoman in the right facilities. "Studies in the US have found trans women in men's facilities are thirteen times more likely to have been sexually assaulted at least once than the rest of the prison population."
She said Corrections protective segregation policies were not working. "This rape wasn't an unforeseeable accident -- it was the inevitable outcome of flawed state policy." It was organising a rally on Saturday in Aotea Square to raise awareness.
Transgender woman Diane Sparkes sent the Herald a copy of a letter she had written to Mr Lotu-Iiga asking him to attend the rally on Saturday. She said the prison system appeared to know Wiri inmate did not identify as male as it was arranging the hormone replacement therapy. She said it raised the question why Corrections did not house the inmate with the gender she identified with.
Corrections has said it was unable to talk about the case at the centre of the police inquiry but was "aware and sympathetic to the particular needs of transgender prisoners". A spokeswoman said a transgender inmate could seek a transfer by a change to their birth certificate or application to the chief executive of the department. Six inmates had applied and five had been approved.
On Monday, the Herald asked Serco how many transgender people it had in the two prisons it manages in New Zealand - a total of about 1900 inmates. It was still unable to provide the information 24 hours later.