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Dept of Corrections Stance Unjust

MEDIA RELEASE: 17 February 2012

NZAF: Dept of Corrections Stance Unjust

The New Zealand AIDS Foundation (NZAF) supports the Chief Ombudsman’s criticism of the Department of Corrections and expresses its solidarity with transgender people, saying that policies in New Zealand prisons put transgender prisoners at risk of HIV.

Chief Ombudsman Beverley Wakem has taken a stance on the safety of transgender people in New Zealand prisons, saying that the Department of Corrections policy does not adequately reflect the expectation that transgender people are treated with dignity. The Department of Corrections has steadfastly refused to reconsider its policy of housing transgender prisoners depending on whether or not they have completed gender reassignment surgery.

Shaun Robinson, NZAF Executive Director, says that one effect of the policy is that transgender women who may not have completed gender reassignment surgery and therefore have not changed their birth certificates are housed in male prisons and treated as male prisoners. “Yet these women identify as women, dress as women, receive female hormones and live their day-to-day lives as women”

Robinson argues that trampling on the human rights of people on the basis of sexual and gender identity is fundamentally unjust “This is a human rights issue at a base level; the policy is transphobic and places transgender people at severe risk of violence in prisons. It illustrates on-going institutional oppression of people on the grounds of sexual and gender identity. There are also wider implications; the Department’s stance is a recipe for ensuring that sexual health issues, including HIV, remain underground in prisons and are virtually impossible to address.”

Ombudsman Wakem has pointed to the frequent risk of sexual assault faced by transgender women in male prisons. “This decision flies in the face of the recommendations of the 2007 Human Rights Commission Report ‘To Be Who I Am’ on the rights of transgender people,” says Robinson. “The report notes that ‘protection from discrimination under the Human Rights Act 1993 requires policies and practices to be inclusive of transgender people, whatever their sex or gender identity’ - something the Department of Corrections does not appear to have considered.”

Robinson is calling on the Department to review its policy and update it in line with the Ombudsman’s recommendations. “We urge the Corrections Departments to listen to the Ombudsman, MPs, Agender and other community organisations who have created a groundswell of support for a review of this discriminatory policy.”


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