Death of transgender woman at Doncaster men's prison sparks policy change call

The death of a transgender woman remanded into a men's prison in Doncaster has sparked fresh calls for trans' offenders to receive more support in custody.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 10th January 2017, 5:28 pm
Updated Tuesday, 10th January 2017, 5:31 pm
Jenny Swift, an inmate at HMP Doncaster, an all-male prison, was hanged dead in her cell on December 30.
Jenny Swift, an inmate at HMP Doncaster, an all-male prison, was hanged dead in her cell on December 30.

Jenny Swift, an inmate at HMP Doncaster, an all-male prison, was hanged dead in her cell on December 30.

Suicide is suspected.

Despite the Ministry of Justice being made aware of the fact Swift was transgender and requests for her to be placed into a women’s prison, the 49-year-old was remanded into the Category B prison in Marshgate on November 17.

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This came after 49-year-old Swift, of Seaforth, Liverpool was charged in connection with the fatal stabbing of Eric Flanagan, 26 at a property in Surrey Street, Balby on November 15.

Following Swift’s death, Prisons and Probation Ombudsman Nigel Newcomen is now calling for jails to be more flexible and proactive in managing transgender inmates.

He said: “These events made the need to address this issue all the more pressing.”

Historically, Mr Newcomen said his office received few complaints from prisoners identifying themselves as transgender and has investigated relatively few deaths in custody, but said this number had now begun to rise.

He published a bulletin on lessons that could be learned from investigations into five deaths and 33 complaints between 2008 and August 2016.

About 80 transgender individuals are believed to be in jails in England and Wales.

Prisons house male and female prisoners separately and will usually determine gender based on that which is recognised by law.

Under prison instructions in place during the period covered by the report, inmates would ordinarily be housed according to their legally recognised gender.

They were allowed to request a switch if they were "sufficiently advanced in the gender reassignment process".

According to the guidance, prisons should consider moving a prisoner to the estate of the gender with which they identify.

The report said: "Our investigations have found that this did not always happen in a proactive, timely, or consistent way."

In a number of cases concerning claims of discrimination, bullying and harassment, the watchdog found that, while steps were taken to protect the prisoner, officials did not properly investigate the allegations raised.

Several complaints have also been received from transgender female prisoners about restrictions to gender expression that were based on security considerations, with most concerning clothing or make-up.

In one case cited in the report a prisoner complained that she had not been permitted to wear make-up for her security photo.

Regulations that guide the care and management of transgender prisoners in England and Wales are covered in a new Prison Service Instruction (PSI) issued in November.

Mr Newcomen said the PSI "reflects the appropriately heightened awareness of transgender issues in prison - and in society as a whole".

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: "Our top priority is the welfare of those in our custody and, following a thorough review, we have taken action to improve the way we manage and support transgender offenders.

"As the Prison and Probation Ombudsman recognises, many of the recommendations outlined in his report have already been addressed but we will continue to work to improve the management of all prisoners in our custody.

"We are committed to making prisons places of safety and reform and have invested in specialist mental health training for prison officers as well as launching a suicide and self-harm reduction project."

Swift was initially charged with attempted murder following the assault on Mr Flanagan at a property in Surrey Street, Balby on November 15.

Following Mr Flanagan’s death on December 15, police referred the case back to the Crown Prosecution Service, however the charge had not been changed by the time of Swift’s death.

In documentation used by South Yorkshire Police, Crown Prosecution Service and the Coroners' Court, Swift is referred to as Jonathan, which is her registered name.

Her name had not been legally changed by the time she died.

Inquests into the deaths of Mr Flanagan and Swift opened at Doncaster Coroners' Court yesterday.

A South Yorkshire Police spokesman confirmed the investigation into Mr Flangan's murder was ongoing.