Alarming reality for women in Victorian prisons

Alarming reality for women in Victorian prisons

A response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by the Department of Justice and Community Safety shows just how bad things are for women in Victorian prisons.

The FOI had sought answers to questions like, “how many transgender women were housed in Victorian women’s prisons?” and “what were the nature of the crimes committed by transgender women housed in Victorian women’s prisons?” Answers to such questions are critical to understanding how many biological males are being housed in women’s prisons in Victoria, how many have histories of violence (particularly against women), and how many are committing violence against female inmates.

The FOI response, published on the Coalition for Biological Reality’s Facebook page, clarified that:

"Corrections Victoria was consulted and advised that transgender status is not information that is collected and reported on by the department. A prisoner’s transgender status is self-reported. The Corrections Victoria prison database, the Prisoner Information Management System (PIMS), does not allow this information to be collected in a way that can be extracted. While there may be notes about a prisoner’s transgender status within the Sentence Management case notes in PIMS, it is not recorded in a way that can be retrieved by the use of a computer."

While it is unclear whether Corrections Victoria has some other undisclosed monitoring system in place for trans-identified males in women's prisons, on the face of it, it does not appear that they are keeping sex-based data on their inmates. The Coalition for Biological Reality highlighted how alarming this is:

“Think men in women's prisons is bad? In Victoria, Australia it's worse than bad. Corrections Victoria are not even tracking how many males are being housed in women's prisons. This is worse than the situation in California. We don't even know what crimes these men have committed. There is no way of tracking incidents of violence committed by male inmates against female prisoners.”

Women’s advocates have also expressed their shock on social media:

“No data is being kept on Trans identifying males in female prisons. None at all. Harrowing in light of Sex Self ID being enshrined in law [in Victoria] & confirmed [Male] on [Female] sexual assaults being covered up...And Corrections Vic is signed up to the lucrative ACON/AWEI Pride Scheme of course.” – Angie Jones

“#AusMedia why haven’t you sought out or reported this information? How can you claim this is a “non-issue” if there is no data to confirm it & when there is ample anecdotal evidence of transwomen being housed in female prisons in Oz? @abcnews @thedrum @4corners @SBSNews #KPSS” – Women’s Action Alliance Canberra (WAAC)

"This is appalling! You are telling me that women could be housed with biological men who are rapists and they have no consent, no say and there is no public record." - Maximus

Biological male criminals being housed in women’s prisons in Victoria has been made possible by self-identification policies, which allow prisoners to be housed in the facility that matches their ‘gender identity’. Other states also have self-identification policies, but at least in NSW – as confirmed when the issue was raised by Mark Latham MP last month – they seem to be keeping track of how many trans-identified males are being kept in women’s prisons.

As we have argued many times before (here, here and here), housing male offenders in women’s prisons presents grave risks to female inmates. Such risks include sexual assault and impregnation of which we now have myriad overseas examples. Of particular concern are recent figures from the UK which show that transgender prisoners are five times more likely to carry out sex attacks on inmates in women’s prisons than their female counter-parts.

In addition to the grave risks for female prisoners, an additional concern is the fact that male crimes are being recorded as female crimes. How are we meant to address male violence when it isn’t being accurately recorded?

Every effort should be made to ensure the safety of all prisoners, but in housing trans-identified males in women’s prisons and failing to keep a record of their biological sex, Corrections Victoria has shown a flagrant disregard for the privacy, dignity and safety of its female inmates. Self-identification policies in women’s prisons in Victoria and other Australian states must be abolished as a matter of utmost urgency and new policies devised that will protect the safety of both male transgender inmates and female inmates.

Women’s Forum Australia is an independent think tank that undertakes research, education and public policy advocacy on issues affecting women and girls, with a particular focus on addressing behaviours and practices that are harmful and abusive to them. We are a non-partisan, non-religious, tax-deductible charity. We do not receive any government funding and rely solely on donations to make an impact. Support our work today.

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