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Transpeople (Prisons)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:44 am on 20th November 2015.

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Photo of Cat Smith Cat Smith Junior Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities 11:44 am, 20th November 2015

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting the urgent question, on this, trans memorial day, which, as I am sure you know, given your interest in the matter, is when we remember all those who have lost their lives because of prejudice and persecution of the trans community, on which issue the shadow Women and Equality team is working closely with the shadow Justice team. I am grateful for their support. It is unfortunate that the Secretary of State could not be here, but I would like to thank the Minister for the tone of his response. On behalf of the Labour party, I want to put on the record our sincere condolences to the family, boyfriend and friends of Vicky Thompson, who died on 13 November in HMP Leeds.

On 3 November, I raised on the Floor of the House the issue of Tara Hudson, a young trans woman placed in a men’s prison. It is a tragedy that, within three weeks of that date, we are once again discussing the issue of trans prisoners.

Statistics released last month by the Ministry of Justice show that 186 people took their own lives in prisons in England and Wales in the 12 months to the end of September 2015. That equates to one prisoner taking their own life every four days. Will the Minister confirm that tackling the issue of suicides in prisons is a serious priority for his Department? With the number of prisoners who have died in prison having risen to the highest level for a decade, it must be right for the Government to take action and assess what steps should be taken to address the problem.

The safety in custody statistical bulletin also revealed that the number of self-injury incidents reported in prisons in England and Wales rose by 21% in the 12 months to the end of June 2015. At a time when the prison population is increasing with overcrowding in cells on the rise, and the number of individuals coming forward for gender reassignment surgery is also increasing, placement of transgender prisoners on the prison estate is likely only to increase. The Minister has already touched on the issue, but will he confirm whether the National Offender Management Service will begin to record the number of transpeople who are in custody in prisons, and will he commit himself to making those figures public?

Earlier this week, the Justice Secretary confirmed in a letter to the Justice Select Committee that he had nominated a preferred candidate for the role of Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons. Will the Minister confirm that whoever is ultimately appointed will make tackling the rise in prison suicides a top priority? Will he agree to meet the Opposition Front-Bench team and leading trans awareness organisations to discuss the issue?

Prison understaffing is a serious problem. Will the Minister confirm that the spending review will not lead to more cuts from the MOJ staffing budget and that adequate transgender and equality training will be offered to all MOJ staff who need it? I welcome the fact that the Minister has confirmed that his Department is reviewing these matters, but will he go further and publish the terms of the review so that the House and the public can be reassured that the issue is being assessed with the seriousness that it deserves?

Finally, does the Minister believe that the policy guidelines on placing transgender prisoners in the estate are adequate? If so, does he think that the guidelines are being applied consistently and appropriately?