A British trans woman being held at a male prison while on remand was found dead in her cell.
Jenny Swift, was found dead at HMP Doncaster, South Yorkshire.
Trans activists say reports that, while she was in custody, Swift was denied hormone medication is ‘tantamount to torture’.
Swift, who had asked to be put into a women’s prison, had been charged with attempted murder and criminal damage after an assault in Balby, Doncaster.
Official guidelines state prisoners should be placed in jails that reflect their gender as recognized by the law.
However, these guidelines only came into effect on 1 January – just two days after Swift’s death.
A friend, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Sheffield Star that Swift had been taking female hormones for three years as part of her transitioning process but was not provided with the same medication in prison.
‘She kept asking for the hormones and they said she would get them but she never did. I phoned up and explained that she needed them too,’ the friend said. ‘Jenny said that not having them was making her legs shake, making her feel sad and ill – she said it was like coming off drugs. It made her miserable.’
A MOJ spokesperson confirmed Swift’s death and said while the MOJ are aware that she was transgender, no explanation was given by them why she was remanded into a category B private men’s prison. The prisons and probation ombudsman had opened an investigation.
The spokesperson said: ‘Self-inflicted deaths are a tragedy and mental health in custody is taken extremely seriously. We have a range of measures already in place to help support prisoners suffering from these issues.
‘But we recognize more can be done. That is why we have allocated more funding for prison safety and have launched a suicide and self-harm reduction project to address the increase in self-inflicted deaths and self-harm in our prison.’
One in four prisons in England and Wales are holding transgender inmates, according to figures released by the MoJ in November.
Jane Fae, a trans campaigner and journalist, condemned the MoJ statement as ‘awful’.
‘Withdrawing hormones from a trans woman without adequate medical supervision is tantamount to torture,’ she told Gay Star News.
‘Apart from the physiological problems, a sudden withdrawal of hormones can trigger heart problems. It is very well documented that withdrawal of hormones for trans women will have serious psychological side effects including depression and suicidal thoughts.’
An Action for Trans Health spokesperson said they were ‘devastated’ to hear about a third trans woman dying in a men’s UK prison in 2016.
‘This sad case raises multiple issues:
– lack of trans healthcare provision, which can be even harder to come by under privatised services such as HMP Doncaster, run by Serco
– how the prison industrial complex reproduces gender through force
– the ways that prisons engineer cruelty and death, with self-inflicted deaths rising by 28% in the last year.’
Action for Trans Health are organizing a demonstration, which you can join, outside HMP Doncaster on International Day of Solidarity with Trans Prisoners on 22 January.