Trans women in men’s prisons

Can you learn anything about trans women in general from trans women in prison? Can you even learn how trans women in prison should be treated, from statistics about trans women in prison?

Prisoners are among the most deprived people in society. They have far higher rates of mental illness than the general population. They are more likely to have been in care as children, to be poor, or uneducated. And, they are a tiny proportion of the population. You can’t learn much about, say, Glaswegians from Glaswegians in prison. Many prisoners were convicted of crimes arising from poverty and desperation- “crimes of survival”- especially trans women. Trans women are often criminalised.

Trans women with a GRC are imprisoned as women, in the female estate. There are no statistics on how many such prisoners they are. A GRC is expensive, and requires diagnosis from a specialist psychiatrist, so such trans women are likely to have had far less chaotic lives than most prisoners, with a higher level of ability to trust society shown by their participation before imprisonment.

Trans women without a GRC may be imprisoned in the female estate or the male estate. Here, people arguing for trans rights are in a double bind. It is possible that someone might lie, that they are trans, in order to subvert the prison system or for some perceived benefit. And, it is possible that someone might live in their assigned sex, too terrified to transition and never giving any sign of being trans, but faced with the catastrophe of imprisonment they decide to live as their true self. I won’t judge any prisoner who says they are trans, and claim they are not. I have no basis for that.

So, some of the worst prisoners in men’s prisons claiming to be trans may not be. This is more of a problem for the anti-trans campaigners than for trans people. They can make no argument monstering trans women in men’s prisons, because those prisoners may be liars rather than trans women. The trans women should not be judged by the actions of the liars. This distinction is hard to grasp for anti-trans campaigners, who find it hard to believe anyone could assert that they are a trans woman truthfully, or even with a good faith belief.

Trans women in women’s prisons, by contrast, have shown clear evidence that they are trans- perhaps they have transitioned on the out, perhaps they had relevant documents in their female names, perhaps they were on the years-long waiting lists to see a gender psychiatrist. The panels set up to judge where to send them would send them to men’s prisons otherwise.

With any human characteristic- left-handedness, for example- there are some very bad people with that characteristic. Lauren Jeska and Karen White are trans women. They should be punished as the criminals they are, but not more because they are trans; and no conclusion can be drawn about trans women in general from these women’s crimes, any more than you can draw conclusions about cis women from Myra Hindley.

In March/April 2019, there were 34 self-declared trans prisoners in women’s prisons in England and Wales. Seven of them had been convicted of one or more sexual offence, though the data does not indicate whether their current sentences were for sexual offences. There were no records of the number with a GRC, but it was thought to be less than ten. There were 129 self-declared trans prisoners in men’s prisons.

That 129 may include liars pretending to be trans. There is no incentive to the prison system to deny the claims. Anti-trans campaigners cannot have it both ways: when they claim that there are sex offenders pretending to be trans, they cannot then claim that trans women are likely to be sex offenders.

Between 2016 and 2019, 97 sexual assaults were recorded in women’s prisons, seven committed by transgender prisoners: at least four by one prisoner, Karen White. In 2019, in men’s prisons, eleven trans women were recorded as the victims of sexual assaults. Source: FDJ v Secretary of State for Justice.

However Shon Faye’s book “The Transgender Issue,” published this month, reports that at the time of writing there were only eleven trans women without a GRC in women’s prisons in England, and seven in Scotland. The relentless hate campaign has made Transgender Case Boards reluctant to place trans women in women’s prisons.

I started this post after being referred to this hateful rubbish, which is being used to back up the unsubstantiated claim that trans women have high rates of sex offending and are a danger in women’s prisons. The rubbish says trans allies claim Dhejne’s study has been discredited, but we don’t: we only claim that the study is not evidence that trans women’s rates of offending are higher than cis women’s. The conclusion in the rubbish is surprisingly weak, only that the study is the best available study on conviction rates of trans people. That is more because it is the only such study on a large scale. Anyone referred to the rubbish as evidence for a conclusion about trans women’s offender rates could quote that.

The rubbish quotes Dr James Barrett, the president of the British Association of Gender Identity Specialists, as saying some recorded trans people are liars. If so, no conclusion can be drawn about trans women.

Trans women suffer assault including sexual assault in men’s prisons. Most press attention is on an alleged threat from some of the most vulnerable prisoners.

2 thoughts on “Trans women in men’s prisons

  1. I had several conversations and emails with Dr. James Barrett (a fellow-Quaker) in the early days of my daughter’s transition and found him a most thoughtful and empathetic person. If he did say, at some point in his career, to someone. that in his view some people recorded as trans are liars, how is that different from some people are liars – undeniably true, but says nothing really.. and in my view he probably said lots of positive (unquoted) things about his clientele also. Personally, judging by my daughters experience, I can’t see why anyone would put themselves through all the obstacles, setbacks and delays involved in pursuing transition if they didn’t find have substantial GID and found not doing so more painful and distressing than remaining as assigned at birth.


    • The theory is that while no-one would pretend to be trans on the out, it is different in prison. Sex offenders are already at the bottom of the pecking order, fair game for anyone. Women can wear their own clothes. They will get more scrutiny before being sent to a women’s gaol, but there is a chance of that. He states possible motivations. He might want to subvert the system, get out to see a psychiatrist, might think he was seen as less threatening…

      I really don’t know, but Barrett works with such people. I read his article in The Friend.


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