Why prison is no place for transsexuals

by Claudio Tamburrino - 2013.03.22
Why prison is no place for transsexuals
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The emergency in prisons is not just about overcrowding. Nor is it just a question of general quality and respect for human dignity. It is also linked to specific cases involving transsexuals, which are increasingly finding themselves at the crux of the debate on prisons throughout Europe.

In addition to the problems that all prisoners face as they work towards rehabilitation, transsexual prisoners also have to contend with punishments not for what they did, but for what they are.

The problem of prisons has a particularly serious facet for transsexuals, who are often detained for minor offences, prostitution or drug use. Prisons lack the facilities appropriate for transsexuals, so they have to be housed either with men or women, even though they don't belong to either category. They often end up in wings reserved for more serious offenders. Transsexuals also need particular security measures to protect them from other inmates.

The problem is such that Amnesty International Italy, during the recent political elections, presented the country's main electoral candidates with a programme of 10 points for human rights in Italy. The fight against homophobia and 'trans-phobia' was one of the points, as well as the guarantee of human rights to all LGBT people.

In France, the debate is of particular relevance. The current policy is to only acknowledge the gender recorded on the person's ID card. This means that, even if that person has started hormone therapy or sex-change surgery, they may find themselves locked up with the opposite sex.

In rare cases, prison directors, with ministerial approval, can decide to send a male transsexual inmate to a women's prison. This happens most often when the sex change operation has been done but the new gender has not yet been made official.

Some prisons, such as Fleury-Merogis or Caem, have wings specifically for transgender people, which are isolated from the rest of the prison and have particular rules: for example, inmates are allowed to buy products for hair removal, make-up or female underwear.

In the UK the problem is dealt with on a case-by-case basis. A prison in London, for example, authorized the transfer of a transsexual to a women's prison in 2009, saying it was necessary for his personal rights.

In Italy, the department of prison administration last counted 104 transsexuals and homosexuals among the detainees held in prisons, all of whom reside in protected sections. There are special wings in Milan's San Vittore prison, in Rebibbia in Rome and in the prison in Terni, while Pozzale has also opened a prison exclusively for transgender offenders.

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