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Thursday 29 June 2017

"It is time to recognise gender identity"

Posted in: Our Communities, Politics and Religion
By Cherise Witehira - 1st March 2012

Agender President Cherise Witehira
Agender NZ President Cherise Witehira has written to the Minister and Associate Minister of Corrections about trans inmates, calling them out on the "ignorance and transphobia" shown in Parliament and offering some practical solutions:

To the Minister and Associate Minister of Corrections,

I am writing to you about an issue raised over how transgender prisoners are treated in prison.  It is time to recognise gender identity.  The issue of how trans prisoners are treated show that transgender people do not yet have full human rights.

Agender NZ Inc. is a leading advocacy organisation for the trans community in Aotearoa, New Zealand. Agender NZ is able to assist in developing policies for the treatment of trans people. Education is simply not a matter of teaching staff what the rules are, but giving them sensitivity to issues facing trans people, and ensuring that they treat trans prisoners with dignity and respect. This education must be at all levels of the prison service, including the staff in the facilities, case managers, and those in positions of power who make decisions that affect trans prisoners.

It was stated that there are only five trans prisoners out of 8,500 prisoners. This is simply not true. I know of at least eight prisoners in the South Island and 11 in the North Island all whom identify as trans. You must understand that the prisoners I have mentioned are ones I know of personally and does not include trans prisoners who are not out as trans and due to the fear of physical and sexual assault, which are the most common forms of assault against trans prisoners.

As you know, the foreword to Better Corrections Law in New Zealand states the following: “The key themes include... offenders will be treated fairly and humanely and will have sentence management plans providing for rehabilitation and reintegration.” “Corrections business is about administering sentences and working with offenders to reduce the likelihood that they will re-offend. It is for good reason that reducing re-offending must clearly be the priority.”

The two key issues which are particularly relevant to trans people in prison:

1. Offenders will be treated fairly and humanely

  • This entails being treated as the gender of identity. Having access to privacy, recognising that trans people have bodies which do not necessarily match their gender identity and therefore have a greater need for privacy than non-trans people.
  • Physical safety and recognising that trans people are more likely to be targets of physical and sexual assault.

2. Reducing re-offending

  • Anecdotal evidence suggests that the reason that some trans people lash out against society is due to their gender issues. This means that addressing the gender issues will greatly aid rehabilitation and conversely, not addressing the gender issues will prevent rehabilitation.
  • Therefore, hormone treatment and counselling must be continued or commenced if requested.
  • Preventing trans people from presenting themselves in their gender identity can make some lash out in reaction. This is not constructive for either the trans person themselves or for those around them, and can inhibit positive changes in behaviour.

Trans people should have the same right to dignity and respect as others, but given the difficulties of having a body that is different from their gender identity, there needs to be recognition that this will require more effort on the part of the prison service for trans people than for others. All preoperative trans people need privacy in lavatory and showering facilities (if they are not in a unit specifically catering to trans people). This is because of the trauma of having a physical body which is different from the gender of identification being in the view of other inmates. Trans prisoners should have the right to wear clothing appropriate to the prisoner’s gender identity. Prison issue clothing should also be appropriate to the gender identity of the prisoner. Trans prisoners should be addressed by their preferred name and in reference to the pronouns used appropriate to the person’s gender identity. Body/Strip searches, where necessary, should be carried out with due regard to the individual’s privacy and dignity. Supervising officers should be of the gender of identity unless requested otherwise.

Specific Solutions

  • Pre sentence, the Judiciary should be made aware that the convicted person is trans and the likely psychological impact of imprisonment and the physical and sexual abuse that is likely. Earnest consideration should be given to non custodial sentences giving due regard to public safety.
  • All trans prisoners (remand or sentenced) should be segregated from other prisoners during transit between police custody, courts and other correctional facilities, for their own safety.
  • Post-operative trans prisoners should serve their sentence in a facility catering to the gender identity of the prisoner.
  • Pre-operative trans prisoners should have the choice of placement in either a male or female prison. Some may choose a prison of their gender identity, others may choose a prison of the opposite gender if they feel it is safer.
  • Serious consideration should be given to the setting up of a unit that caters specifically to trans prisoners

When a trans person is sent to the wrong prison, the following problems can arise:

  • Psychological damage may be caused by being treated as a member of the wrong gender. For example, no man wants to be treated as if he were a woman and vice versa.
  • Physical and sexual abuse may occur. This type of abuse towards trans prisoners is fairly common.
  • Rehabilitation may be inhibited. Psychological damage and physical and sexual abuse will make rehabilitation even more difficult than it would otherwise be.

Corrections Minister Anne Tolley showed complete ignorance about gender identity in Parliament yesterday
Comments made by the Hon. Anne Tolley in response to questions in the House by the Hon. Jan Logie, just displays the pure ignorance and transphobic attitudes that the Government has in regards to the issues faced by trans people in general. This must change. Ultimately, gender identity must be specifically included in the Human Rights Act to show the Department of Corrections that trans prisoners are fully protected from discrimination.

Yours Sincerely,
Cherise Witehira
Agender NZ Incorporated

Cherise Witehira - 1st March 2012

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