Leeds & West Yorkshire

Transgender prison death: Review of procedures under way

Robert Steel and Vikki Thompson Image copyright Robert Steele
Image caption Vikki Thompson, pictured with boyfriend Robert Steele, was found dead on Friday at Armley Prison

The government has announced it is re-examining its policy on transgender prisoners following the death of a woman in a male prison in Leeds.

Vikki Thompson was being held at Armley where she was found dead on Friday. She told her friends she would kill herself if she was sent to a male prison.

The incident prompted the prisons minister to respond to an urgent question in the House of Commons.

Andrew Selous told a debate they are "reviewing prison service instruction".

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Tim Farron, Lib Dem leader, tweeted: "We must reform the law urgently."

'Another era'

Cat Smith, shadow minister for women and equalities, asked if the policy guidelines for transgender prisoners were adequate, and if they are being properly applied.

Mr Selous responded: "Her death like all others in custody is a tragedy and we are totally committed to reducing the number of deaths in prisons.

"We believe that Vikki Thompson was being looked after in accordance with the relevant procedures, but that is now a matter for the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman and Coroner."

He said a review of the policy relating to the care of transgender prisoners had begun earlier this year, and revised policy guidance will be issued and implemented "in due course".

It is estimated there are around 80 transgender prisoners in the UK, although the Ministry of Justice does not keep precise figures.

The debate also follows a transgender woman being sent to a men's prison in Bristol.

Prison population figures

The Ministry of Justice does not record numbers of transgender prisoners

80

is the current estimate of transgender people in UK prisons

  • 85,977 prisoners are men, according to the latest figures

  • 3,935 prisoners are female

Tara Hudson, from Bath, was later transferred to a female prison after a campaign to get her moved.

Ms Smith said: "I first raised the issue of Tara Hudson, a young trans woman who was placed in a men's prison on the floor of this house on the 3rd of November.

"It's a tragedy that within three weeks of that, we are once again discussing the issue of trans prisoners."

Image copyright Jackie Brooklyn
Image caption Tara Hudson was moved from a Bristol prison after a campaign

Jackie Brooklyn, Ms Hudson's mother, said her daughter was "absolutely heartbroken and disgusted" when she heard about Vikki Thompson's death.

She said: "I just think if she was living as a woman she should have been put in a ladies' jail, possibly under segregation for her welfare."

Greg Mulholland, Liberal Democrat MP for Leeds North West, said: "It really seems like something from another era to be putting a transgender woman into a man's prison.

"The tragic consequences of that is there needs to be an inquiry into how this happened. It's certainly time to change the guidelines to avoid this happening again."

Thompson, from Keighley, West Yorkshire, was handed a 12-month jail term in August which was suspended for 24 months.

The BBC understands she later breached the terms of the sentence and was remanded in custody at Bradford Crown Court.

An investigation into her death has been launched, the Prison Service said.

West Yorkshire Police said her death was not being treated as suspicious.

An inquest into Vikki Thompson's death is expected to be opened next week in Wakefield.


Transgender prison rules

  • Prisoners should be placed according to their gender "as recognised by UK law" - usually as stated on their birth certificate
  • If a person has obtained a "gender recognition certificate", they will have a new birth certificate in their "acquired gender"
  • Prisoners who obtain a gender recognition certificate while in prison "should in most cases be transferred to the estate of their acquired gender"
  • But the rules also say some transgender people will be "sufficiently advanced in the gender reassignment process" that they could be placed "in the estate of their acquired gender, even if the law does not yet recognise they are of their acquired gender"
  • Where issues arise, a "case conference" should be held to "review the prisoner's individual circumstances and make a recommendation"

Source: The Care and Management of Transsexual Prisoners, Ministry of Justice website


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