Australian Institute of Criminology

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Transgender inmates

Media Release

05 October 2000

While there are only a small number of transgender inmates in Australian prisons, they are at substantially higher risk of assault and self-harm, as they are in the wider community, says a report, Transgender Inmates, released today by the Australian Institute of Criminology.

Prisons are strictly divided into 'male' and 'female'. "People who transgress traditional boundaries of sex and gender pose a challenge for correctional systems. At least one recent death in custody involved a transgender woman in a male institution."

"So, it's important there are appropriate policies and procedures in place for the management of transgender inmates", Dr Adam Graycar, AIC Director said today.

Transgender persons are those whose physical characteristics and self- or social-identity are not in harmony. The NSW Anti-Discrimination Act defines a transgender person as including someone who identifies as, lives as, or seeks to live as a member of the opposite sex.

Important issues to be addressed in prison policy include choice of institution, access to specialised counselling and medical care and other strategies to reduce the risk of assault and self harm. Currently prison policy on transgender inmates varies enormously across Australia.

Some States use surgical reassignment as the basis to define sex while others use a social-based approach defined by how a person self-identifies their gender.

In the Northern Territory for example, correctional services policy on transgender inmates states that those who have not had reassignment surgery should be placed according to gender assigned at birth.

By contrast in Western Australia, a social-based policy approach is used, which takes into account factors such as family background, developmental history, recent lifestyle, medical history and gender identity preference. In New South Wales there is a presumption that inmates will be classified according to their self-identified gender unless it is determined on a case management basis that they should be placed elsewhere.

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