Transgender prisoner could apply to move

By Rebecca Ryan

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

A transgender Oamaru woman sentenced on Wednesday to nine months' imprisonment in a men's jail could apply to be moved to a women's prison.

A new system for transgender prisoners was introduced on February 10 in which prisoners who have changed the gender on their birth certificate are automatically put into a prison based on that gender.

Department of Corrections southern regional commissioner Ian Bourke said transgender prisoners whose sex on their birth certificate had not been changed could apply to be moved, but applications would be considered case by case.

"If they are unsuccessful with this application, transgender prisoners will be accommodated according to the sex recorded on their birth certificate," Mr Bourke said.

"No prisoner will be permitted to make an application for placement if they have sexually offended against a person of the same gender as the prisoners they wish to be co-located with."

In the Oamaru District Court on Wednesday, Shelley Lee Williams, 37, of Oamaru, was sentenced to nine months' jail, in a men's prison, for three charges of assault, despite a request for a home detention sentence.

The transgender woman's defence counsel, Ngaire Alexander, told the Otago Daily Times she could not comment on whether her client would apply to move to a women's prison.

Corrections Minister Anne Tolley said changes were made in response to concerns about transgender prisoners' safety, and a request from the Ombudsman to reconsider its policy.

Under previous Corrections policy, only those who had completed gender reassignment surgery had the option of being placed in the prison of their identified gender.

Transgender women in men's prisons could choose to be placed in segregation, resulting in exclusion from recreational, educational and occupational opportunities.

Transgender lawyer Kelly Ellis - the newly-selected Labour candidate for Whangarei - said segregation was "utterly inhumane" and, in many cases, led to self-harm.

Ms Ellis said the policy changes were a step in the right direction, but she held concerns for transgender women still housed in men's prisons.

It was "inevitable" they would be sexually assaulted or raped while housed with men, she said.

University of Canterbury sociology professor Dr Greg Newbold said many transgender women preferred to spend time in men's prisons.

Dr Newbold, who served a prison sentence in the late 1970s, said in his experience, most of the transgender prisoners took boyfriends and prostitution was common.

"Men fall in love with them," Dr Newbold said.

Transgender prison relationships did not come without troubles, he said.

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