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20 Nov, 2015 13:15

‘Cruel, unusual punishment’: Transgender woman dies in all-male prison

‘Cruel, unusual punishment’: Transgender woman dies in all-male prison

A transgender woman who warned her friends she would commit suicide if she remained in an all-male prison has died. Her death has sparked renewed calls for the overhaul of transgender prison laws.

Vicky Thompson, 21, was found unconscious in Leeds Prison, West Yorkshire, last Friday night.

Staff and paramedics attempted to resuscitate her, but she was pronounced dead at 8:48pm, according to the Prisons Service.

An investigation into her death has been launched.

In August, Thompson was handed a 12-month jail term which was suspended for 24 months.

After breaching the terms of her sentence, Thompson was remanded in custody at Bradford Crown court, according to the BBC.

Friends of Thompson told the Independent she had previously asked to be sent to an all-female prison. The request was denied, however, and she was sent to an all-male prison.

Her boyfriend, Robert Steele, said he had spoken to Thompson a day before her death. She is alleged to have complained of verbal abuse.

She didn’t like it in there because people were saying things to her because she was dressing as a female,” he told the BBC.

Her solicitor, Mohammed Hussain, who describes Thompson as “vulnerable,” said he asked the judge to reduce her sentence if she was sent to an all-male prison.

Currently, prisoners are placed in jails according to their gender “as recognized by UK law,” often as stated on their birth certificate.

According to Ministry of Justice (MoJ) guidelines, if a person has obtained a gender recognition certificate, they will have a new birth certificate in their “acquired gender.”

SafeT, an organization which represents transgender people, said it hopes Thompson’s death will encourage a change in transgender prison laws.

Any woman would not be happy in a male prison regardless of any gender identity history,” campaigner Alex Kaye said in a statement.

Trans Watch Media (TMW) said Thompson “may well” have feared for her safety before she died.

Being treated as male can cause psychological distress to trans women, she may well have feared for her safety,” TMW chair Jennie Kermode told RT.

This is a cruel and unusual punishment that goes far beyond the usual prison experience.”

She cited the case of Tara Hudson, a trans woman who transferred from an all-male prison to a female prison last month. “We had hoped that case would alert the Ministry of Justice to the inappropriateness of this approach, so it’s awful to her Thompson was still in this situation.”

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has also called for transgender prison laws to be overhauled. “We must reform the law urgently,” he tweeted.

Labour MP and Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities Cat Smith called Thompson’s death “devastating.”

The reality is that sending women into men’s prison to serve sentences would shatter even the strongest person,” she told the Guardian.

It must have been terrifying to be driven into a men’s prison after living her whole adult life as a woman. But we’ll never get to hear Vicky’s testimony of what it was like in there for her.”

West Yorkshire Police said Thompson’s death is not being treated a suspicious.