UK to update trans prison policy to prevent biological males from being housed in women's prisons

Secretary of State for Justice Dominic Raab said that the changes will "ensure a sensitive and common-sense approach to meeting the needs of women in custody."

Mia Ashton Montreal QC

The UK government has announced a reform of its transgender prison policy that will mean trans-identified males who have male genitalia or have been convicted of sexual offenses will no longer be held in women’s prisons.

The policy will allow for exemptions, to be assessed on a case-by-case basis, but the Ministry of Justice stresses that “only the most truly exceptional cases will be considered.”

The announcement comes in the midst of the controversy surrounding the UK government’s decision to block Scotland’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill that would have allowed anyone, even convicted sex offenders, to change their legal sex simply by self-declaration

Also currently making headlines is the Scottish rapist, Isla Bryson, who started identifying as a woman while awaiting trial for the rape of two women. Bryson was convicted and is currently being held in Cornton Vale women’s prison in Sterling.

The UK government is in the process of finalizing a policy framework that will set out the new guidance in detail. The implementation of the policy will take effect after the revised framework is published.

Secretary of State for Justice Dominic Raab states that the safety of all prisoners is paramount, and that these changes will “ensure a sensitive and common-sense approach to meeting the needs of women in custody.” It went on to say that transgender prisoners will be appropriately supported in whichever estate they are housed.

This reform is in stark contrast to prison policies in the U.S. and Canada, where inmates are more commonly housed by their self-declared gender identity.

Male criminals who self-identify as women have been permitted transfer to women’s prisons in Canada since Bill C-16 was passed in 2017, which added gender identity and gender expression as protected characteristics to the Criminal Code. 

This has led to incarcerated women being locked up with males who have committed deplorable crimes against women and children, such as Catherine Lynn, who murdered a women and then raped her corpse. Lynn is reportedly now housed in a women’s prison in Ontario.

In 2022, the Biden Administration reissued guidelines requiring the federal prison service to consider the safety of transgender inmates when considering in which prison estate they should be housed. The Bureau of Prisons reissued its Transgender Offender Manual requiring a case-by-case placement analysis which also instructed prison guards to respect a transgender inmate's pronouns and chosen name. Several states have introduced legislation that would permit males to self-declare as female and be moved to women's prisons.

Under the current UK policy, more than 90% of trans-identified male inmates are housed in the male estate, and most do not request transfer to women's prisons. Trans-identified males who have no legally changed their sex are sent to male prisons. Under the new policy, all trans-identified males who have intact male anatomy or who have been convicted of sexual offenses will not be housed in women's prisons "unless there are exceptional circumstances."

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