Sunday, 1 November 2015

If you are transgender, will you receive justice in a UK court?

Tara Hudson - jailed in a violent male prison
On the 23rd October Tara Hudson was given a prison sentence by Bath Magistrates for violent conduct assaulting the bar manager of a club in Bristol on Boxing Day of the previous year.

Tara is a transgender woman who admits that she also has alcohol and other mental health problems, so the magistrates decided that after several cautions about her previous behaviour she should be sent to prison.

We see this every weekend in towns and cities all over the UK and yes, most people are dismayed and angry that this happens - and every weekend people end up by being locked up in custody overnight and then released the following day with a fine.

Nobody is disputing that after a series of cautions maybe she deserved the short sharp shock of a 3 month prison sentence where hopefully she would get some help with her alcohol problems.

However what was truly horrific was that the magistrates decided to send her to HMP Bristol, a male prison which has been severely criticised by HM Inspectorate of Prisons as being an increasing violent institution where the morale of the prison staff and the inmates was at an all time low and that the prison was also castigated for the flourishing drug trade that occurs within its walls.

Tara is a young woman who has lived all her adult life in her acquired gender role, who has been on oestrogen hormones for 6 years (the Athletics Federation allows transgender people to compete in their acquired gender role after just two years of being on hormones as they have proved that after this amount of time the strength superiority acquired from testosterone has completely disappeared). She has also undergone various surgeries to change her body.

Despite assurances that she would be kept safe, she was allegedly locked in her cell for 23 hours a day and harassed and sexually abused continuously whilst she was there.  The prison staff were either powerless to stop the abuse or allowed it to happen.

A few days after reports about this surfaced in a local paper, a campaign was launched by Bath Gender Equality Network - which amazingly achieved 160,000 signatures in a little over 3 days, questions were raised in Parliament about what the DOJ was doing to rectify the problem which the Bath magistrates had caused. When questioned by reporters about this case,The Ministry of Justice, kept on repeating, parrot fashion, that until a transgender person had a GRC or new birth certificate, they would be housed in a jail that reflected their birth gender - despite their own guidelines published in 2011 saying that if a person had progressed a sufficient way into their transition, then a case conference should be called to decide which prison to house the person so as not to create additional mental stress to that person.

Demonstrators outside Bristol Crown Court ©BBC News
During the week she was housed in HMP Bristol an appeal was launched which was held a week after she had been sent down - this time at Bristol Crown Court. BGEN organised a demonstration (which myself and other people from Transfigurations attended) to be held outside the court during the hearing. A similar demonstration also took place outside the MOJ Department in London. The judge in the appeal hearing, although not changing the sentence, suggested that the prison authorities should reconsider where she should serve her sentence. Fortunately, the prison authorities decided to finally see wisdom and Tara was sent back from the hearing to a female prison in Gloucestershire.

Lessons do need to be learned from this terrible injustice as it was very apparent that Tara's Human Rights were breached by the original sentencing decision, so the whole legal system - from magistrates to prison authorities, need to learn from this terrible injustice and to apply the existing rules and guidelines as these were completely disregarded in this case.

I would like to thank Ceri Caramél Jenkins, Emily Senft and everybody else at the Bath Gender Equality Network who worked tirelessly long days and nights arranging the petition, twitter storms and everything else which you did raising awareness about this injustice - and most of all I would like to thank the great British public who responded quickly and compassionately in signing this petition - without your support I fear that Tara would still be in Horfield Prison and would bear the resulting scars for the rest of her life.

Thank you!!!!!

Later: As I mentioned in the message above, holding Tara in a male prison was a clear breach of her Human Rights and this is now being recognised as another petition has just been launched to bring the attention of the UN to the UK's treatment of transgender detainees and for them to take action against the UK government to stop this happening in the future.

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Thank you for your patience -- Carol