Peers debated an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill seeking to secure ‘single sex’ prisons by ensuring prisoners were accommodated ‘by reference to their sex registered at birth’. The proposed legislation was accused of perpetuating stereotypes of trans women and withdrawn.
Introducing the amendment, Lord Blencathra said that ‘the needs of women in prison matter, and these needs mandate single-sex provision’. ‘Women in prison are acknowledged to be an exceptionally vulnerable group and cannot simply choose to use a different space which remains single-sex,’ he said.
The Conservative peer argued that the female prison estate was ‘a definitive example of a space that should be single-sex’. ‘If women in prison cannot be guaranteed single-sex spaces, no woman or girl can,’ he said. ‘Hospital wards, changing rooms, rape crisis centres, refuges and toilets in schools – I am talking about anywhere where women and girls, for reasons of dignity, privacy and safety, require single-sex spaces.’
The amendment came under heavy fire from peers. For example, Lord Pannick highlighted the plight of a person born male who had lived as a woman for 20 years ‘even if they have undergone sex reassignment surgery, even if they have a gender recognition certificate, and even if they are assessed as posing no risk whatever to other women’.
Under the proposals, Pannick pointed out that the Home Office would be obliged to place them in a men’s prison or put them in specially segregated facilities. ‘The former option of putting them in a men’s prison would be a disaster; it would obviously be enormously dangerous to such a person,’ he said. ‘Placing them in specially segregated facilities would be demeaning; it would fail to recognise what legislation in this country has recognised for the last at least 15 years: that people who happen to be born in the wrong sex deserve our compassion and deserve recognition of their position.’
Lord Hope of Craighead said it was ‘a great mistake’ to legislate. ‘It may be that the prison estate will be big enough in years to come so that one can segregate by gender reassignment in special prisons of their own, but we are nowhere near that at the moment and the proper way to deal with this is to rely on the discretion that exists at present.’
Lord Cashman accused the amendment of perpetuating ‘the stereotype of trans women and trans men as sexual predators – as a threat to other women, and trans men as a threat to the wider society’.
Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb, acknowledging that she was going to ‘get abuse’ for her views, noted situations where women had experienced sexual predation by men who have falsely identified as women. ‘My party’s policy is that trans men are men and trans women are women, and I do not have a problem with that, but there are occasions when women in women’s prisons experience sexual predation by men who have falsely self-identified as women. The noble Lord, Lord Cashman, said that we are saying that all trans women are sexual predators. We are not saying that – of course not.’
‘What we are talking about here is keeping people safe. Vulnerable people of all kinds, whatever trans identity or sexual identity they have, should be kept safe. Clearly, prisons are the worst possible places to keep people safe; they are a nightmare.’
Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb
Withdrawing his amendment, Lord Blencathra referenced Lord Pannick’s argument that his amendment would mean that transgender prisoners should ‘either be stuffed into the male estate or put into some ghastly specially segregated facility’. ‘That is exactly the current MoJ policy,’ he added. ‘All transgender prisoners coming into the prison estate start off in the male estate… . Some 90% of trans women prisoners stay in the male estate and then some are moved to the women’s estate.’