Transgender individuals are over-represented in UK Prisons

Laura Munt, Head of Offender Rehabilitation at Hestia

Following extensive refurbishment, Hestia Battersea was reopened in January 2020 as the only female Approved Premises in London. Approved Premises (APs) work with high risk offenders upon release from custody, providing not only rehabilitative support, but also a vital element in public protection arrangements. APs offer a level of contact, support and supervision within the community that does not exist anywhere else in the Criminal Justice System.  ​

Shortly after reopening, we received referrals for placements for residents who identify as transgender. Hestia Battersea is a somewhat unique Approved Premises; as a small service with up to 10 bedspaces we are able to provide a high level of support whilst managing risk and creating a safe, enabling environment for both staff and residents. These features made Hestia Battersea an ideal place to support transgender residents, many of whom had experienced additional trauma during their time serving custodial sentences.

Transgender individuals are overrepresented in UK prisons. Data from the Ministry of Justice[1] states that in 2019 there was 1.6 transgender prisoners for every 1000 prisoners. We have seen this group further overrepresented at Hestia Battersea, as 19% of the residents as transgender. This has presented the team with the opportunity to learn a great deal about how best to support our residents.

Everyone’s experience is unique, and as a result, the nature of the support we have provided to each resident has been tailored to their personal needs. We have worked with residents who have experienced time in both the male and female prison estate. We have learned not to make assumptions about our residents – they are the experts of their lived experience.

The best way to get it right is to ask questions and listen. Our experiences have taught us that there are still areas of our society, including the Criminal Justice System, which still do not understand the reality of being a transgender person in Britain.

We have learnt that all the research, training, policies and procedures in the world cannot tell you as much about identifying as transgender as a conversation. We have been able to create an environment where are residents are able to speak freely and openly about their lives and their needs.

This can be anything from enabling a resident to access psychological support, to something as simple as asking a resident their pronoun, and respecting that choice. We have used the expertise of our transgender residents to ensure that we learn from our engagement with them.

We have also created opportunities for residents to be supported by former Hestia Battersea residents who also identify as transgender. This peer support has enabled both parties to experience a unique sense of acceptance and understanding.

We know that many professionals have experienced the anxiety of ‘getting it wrong’; this has resulted in our residents previously not receiving the support they need because professionals have been afraid of saying the wrong thing. We have learnt that if we accept the information and insight that our residents share with us, we will not get it wrong. Allowing their voices to be heard is the most important way of empowering them move forward in their rehabilitation.

[1] The Care and Management of Individuals who are Transgender. Ministry of Justice. October 2019