What Do We Have to be Proud Of?: Corrections Officers at Pride and Trans Women in Our Prison System

So Corrections Officers will be marching in the Pride Parade for the first time this year, adding our racist prison industrial system to the list of things not to be proud of about the event.

Our imprisonment rate for Māori is well over 3x our general imprisonment rate. Our prison system is an undeniable tool of the ongoing process of colonisation, and this “step forward” is nothing but an element of the pinkwashing that gets used to obscure it.

But even then it’s on absolutely shaky ground, seeing as New Zealand still puts trans women in men’s prisons. From my twitter this morning:

  • fact: a trans woman is imprisoned according to her birth certificate: “If staff have a copy of the birth certificate that specifies the prisoner’s sex, the prisoner must be placed in a prison that manages prisoners of the sex specified on the birth certificate.”
  • fact: changing the nominated sex marker on a birth certificate requires a long, stressful, and expensive process that is only available to a privileged few
  • fact: as a result of this, a trans woman who has lived her whole life as a woman and has surgically transitioned, if she has not also changed the sex marker on her birth certificate and it is available to Corrections staff, will automatically be placed in a men’s prison.
  • fact: a trans prisoner can be moved prisons if any staff member has any “doubts” about their sex. Corrections states that doubt can arise at any time, and may stem from something the prisoner says, her birth certificate, a search of personal property, or a strip search.
  • fact: under New Zealand law a trans woman may NEVER be placed in a woman’s prison if she is now or has ever been convicted of a sexual offence.
  • fact: trans women are abused, sexually and otherwise, more than cis women.
  • fact: trans women abuse, sexually and otherwise, less than cis women.
  • fact: the current system, even with its new provisions for nominated sex, explicitly values cis prisoners over trans ones because of this. (Note: the only reason a trans prisoner may not even begin to apply for a transfer is if she has been convicted of a sexual offence)
  • fact: even if a trans woman is in a men’s prison, her file is flagged with “transgender”. This would indicate that Corrections recognise that trans prisoners have particular needs, but apparently do not consider “safety from rape and abuse” one of those needs.

(from the Corrections Prisons Operation Manual)

How many trans women and Māori queers have these proud corrections officers locked up in the last year? Why are they so proud of their jobs in a “challenging environment”? Why are you proud of “who you work for” – an institution that systematically imprisons Māori at an abhorrently higher rate than the rest of us, one that actively puts trans women at risk? If diversity is such a key focus within Corrections then why does this happen?

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