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JustSpeak concerned about transgender imprisonment

JustSpeak concerned about transgender imprisonment


JustSpeak is concerned about the abuse of the rights of transgender offenders sentenced to imprisonment in New Zealand prisons.

JustSpeak calls on the Government to ensure that our legislative framework does not expose prisoners to unnecessary risk of abuse because of their transgender identity. Further, JustSpeak calls on New Zealanders and the Government to take a strong stand against all abuse in prisons.

The Government, acting on behalf of all New Zealanders, is responsible for almost every aspect of prisoners’ lives, including keeping them safe from abuse. As New Zealanders, we cannot accept sexual, physical, psychological and emotional abuse as a normal part of prison life, when the Government has the power to prevent that abuse.

Under our international obligations New Zealand has recognised that all humans are free and equal in dignity and rights. Our human rights and freedoms are to be protected without discrimination, including on the basis of sex or any other status (including gender identity and sexual orientation). We have agreed to protect the rights of prisoners not to be subject to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Recent reports released by the Office of the Ombudsman and the Equal Justice Project have clearly represented to the government the unique difficulties transgender prisoners face. There is a real concern that abuse, particularly of transgender prisoners, is a current reality in New Zealand prisons.

Corrections Minister Anne Tolley has recently introduced new policy which allows prisoners who have changed the gender on their birth certificate to automatically be put into a prison based on that gender. However, we acknowledge the process for a person to change their gender on their birth certificate is not accessible for a large percentage of the transgender community. Those transgender prisoners whose sex on their birth certificate has not been changed can apply to be moved, but applications are still only to be considered case by case. JustSpeak commends the Government for recognizing that transgender people are a vulnerable group with complex needs and for recently putting into place procedures which provide flexibility in determining the most appropriate accommodation options for transgender prisoners. This policy is directed at one of the most important issues around housing transgender prisoners. However, it does not directly address the risk of abuse faced by transgender prisoners once housed, including the time period which occurs prior to any application being heard.

JustSpeak implores the Government to continue to take further steps to protect the basic human rights of transgender people and to work towards reducing abuse in New Zealand prisons generally.

JustSpeak acknowledges the tough choice the sentencing Judge had to make in this particular case between the safety of the offender and that of her victims. However, Judges should not have to choose between the safety of victims and the wider community, and protecting offenders from abuse within our prison system. Although JustSpeak supports the use of alternatives to prison where appropriate, if imprisonment is the only option offenders have the right to be protected from abuse.

We share New Zealanders’ aspirations for a world-leading justice system that reduces the threat of crime and deals fairly with crime when it does occur. An important part of that system is a prison service that treats all prisoners with dignity and respect.

A prison service that does not protect the basic human rights of transgender individuals falls below what we can expect from our justice system – and the Government should continue to act to address this.

ends


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