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Friday, September 4, 2009

Sex Change In Prison

OK- I've been hit with another weird twist of so-called equality and justice in the gender wars. How complicated can gender issues actually become? This news is from Great Britain and is sure to cause controversy. The prisoner remains unnamed in the reports. Fox News and the Associated Press report, "A British court issued a landmark ruling Friday, allowing a transsexual prisoner serving life for manslaughter and attempted rape to be transferred to a women's prison." (September 4 2009) London's High Court heard the prisoner should be moved within a few weeks. The report continues by explaining that High Court Deputy Judge David Elvin said the refusal of Justice Secretary Jack Straw and the prison authorities to transfer the 27-year-old was a violation of his/her human rights. It seems in 2006, he/she was recognised as a woman "for all purposes" under the Gender Recognition Act 2004. According to the court, her birth certificate has been amended accordingly. Although born a man, he/she began the process of gender reassignment while in prison. The prisoner, who was then a man, was originally sentenced to five years for manslaughter in 2001 after strangling his boyfriend to death. Then, days after his release, he tried to rape a female shopkeeper and was sentenced to life. Judge Elvin during the transfer hearing said the prisoner had been diagnosed with gender dysphoria and had been aware of his/her condition from an early age. Elvin said he/she presently looks like a woman. During imprisonment, he/she has adopted a female name, had facial and body hair permanently removed and has developed breasts after hormone treatment. He/she was forbidden from wearing skirts or blouses, or more than "subtle" make-up, at the men's prison where she was being held on a "vulnerable prisoners" wing. (Belfast Telegraph, September 4 2009) In evidence presented for the hearing, the prisoner said he/she had always felt like a woman. The prisoner said, "For me it is simply a reflection of how it should have been from the start," adding he/she hoped to have surgery soon to remove her penis. The prisoner is seeking gender reassignment surgery, but has been told by a gender identity clinic that it cannot take place until he/she has lived "in role" as a woman "within a female prison." His/Her health authority will have to foot the £8,000 bill for his sex change operation. The BBC reports that the Prison Service said it was "disappointed" at the ruling. A spokesman added that the Service was "studying it carefully and will consider whether to appeal." (BBC News, September 4 2009) The Ministry of Justice and prison authorities had argued that he/she was no more likely to be accepted at a women's prison, where he/she would require long periods of segregation at an extra cost of £80,000 a year. In fact, authorities fear the transfer may have a serious impact on his/her mental health, making it more difficult for her to reduce her level of risk to society and win early release. He/She has been eligible for parole since 2007, but has been considered a continuing risk to the public. His/Her life sentence tariff, the minimum period he/she must serve before being considered for parole, expired in 2007.

I guess my main argument with the justice of the transfer is that the prisoner was sentenced as a man. With procedures performed while he/she was imprisoned, the likelihood of complete gender reassignment were heightened. What keeps any prisoner from attempting to seek transfer by using the system to alter any physical qualities? And, at whose expense? Should a complete psychological evaluation have been done before his/her first conviction? Psychiatric facilities are available. And, if he/she is not accepted at a woman's prison, what will his/her next step be? Does the public have to build separate facilities just to house transsexuals?

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