Corrections Continues to Fail Transgender Prisoners – And Breaches the Official Information Act

“We are sensitive to the needs of transgender prisoners including the issues surrounding their placement and safety.”

That’s the line we got in every single press release from Corrections about transgender inmates this year. During the hunger strike for Jade Follett, who was being held in Rimutaka, a men’s facility, despite her request for a transfer, that’s what they said (along with denying the existence of her transfer request, considering they lost it). When news broke of a trans woman being assaulted and raped in Wiri, another men’s facility, that’s what they said. If someone confirms the rumours that the prisoner who committed suicide in Mt Eden was trans, that’ll be what they say (as an aside, if anyone has information about this, please get in touch with either myself or No Pride in Prisons). They’ve fallen back on this line over and over again in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary.

Corrections has never responded satisfactorily to activists and advocates and their demands for better, safer treatment of trans people in prisons. They have not responded satisfactorily to No Pride in Prisons’ attempts to hold them accountable. They did not take responsibility for the rape in Wiri, a direct result of their policy around trans placement and their double-bunking policy. They have not taken any steps to improve their placement policy beyond the Minister of Corrections, Sam Lotu-Iiga, stating that the policy was “fairly new” and that if it kept failing he’d look at changing it.

When the news broke that Jade Follett had been transferred, we kept pushing for more. I was explicit in my interviews with press that this transfer wasn’t the whole issue and that policy around initial placement needed to be addressed, including around remand facilities. It isn’t clear in the Corrections Prison Manual whether trans prisoners are placed in the correct remand facility or whether they’re eligible for transfer while awaiting sentencing, but we know both Jade Follett and Daytona Haenga more recently were in men’s remand facilities – Haenga ended up in protective segregation while in remand.

Corrections also need to address their transfer policy around serious sexual assault – currently a trans prisoner cannot be transferred to the correct and safer facility if they have been convicted of a serious sexual assault against their gender. Anecdotal evidence seems to point to the fact that trans people can be convicted of ‘serious sexual assault’ for not disclosing their trans status before a sexual interaction. Regardless of the details of the conviction, however, deliberately exposing trans women to a 13x higher rate of sexual abuse is torture, and at the very least surely counts as “disproportionately severe” in the eyes of the law. Either way, Corrections’ policy around this is abhorrent and needs to be repealed.

Back in June and July a group of us submitted a range of Official Information Act requests to Corrections asking for information about trans and intersex prisoners and their conditions. Specifically, we asked about how many transgender prisoners there were and where they were being held. Corrections refused to answer, stating “we cannot readily extract statistics about numbers of current and former transgender prisoners from our records,” that they would “be required to manually review a large number of files” to get that information, and that was not “an appropriate use of our publicly funded resources”. Today, Deputy National Commissioner Rachel Leota told Radio NZ that there were 20 transgender prisoners in Corrections facilities.

Where did this data come from? Did they suddenly decide, now that there’s more public focus on these issues, that extracting this data was an appropriate use of public funds? Are our lives and safety only worthwhile when there’s public outcry? Did Corrections take Sophie Buchanan’s advice and find someone to call up the manager of each facility to get an estimate (and respond to RNZ but not the long-overdue OIA request?)

This is just another example of Corrections showing a complete disregard for incarcerated trans people and the advocates trying to improve things.

It’s time for Minister Lotu-Iiga to take action and do something, instead of waiting for Corrections policy to continue to fail trans prisoners with horrific results. It’s time for placement policy to be changed. It’s time for some kind of process, before placement into remand, identifying the needs of trans prisoners and where they need to be for their safety. It’s time to get rid of the frankly torturous serious sexual assault part of the transfer policy.

It’s time for Corrections to take responsibility for the harm they have caused and continue to cause, and to admit that they are not, in fact, “sensitive to the needs of transgender prisoners including the issues surrounding their placement and safety.”

Ministry of Health Release Information About GRS Funding

The Ministry of Health this morning responded to an Official Information Act request made in August by A.D Tait requesting “any correspondence, briefings, summaries or presentations related to changing the current level of funding for Sexual Reassignment Surgery (SRS)” as well as “any assessments, briefings or correspondence between the Ministry of Health, DHBs and overseas providers of Male-to-Female SRS, in regards to sending patients overseas for treatment,” as discussed in the Ministry’s response to another OIA request in April.

The outlook is bleak. First off, the Ministry is withholding three emails (falling under the second half of the request, about overseas treatment) between them and ‘the DHB’ on the grounds of “maintain[ing] the effective conduct of public affairs through the free and frank expression of opinions” (OIA Section 9(2)(g)(i)). What does ‘free and frank expression of opinions’ mean in this context and why do they need to be withheld? Considering Andrew Little and co’s comments earlier this year and the fact that in the Ministry’s own communications released in this OIA they refer to trans surgeries as ‘elective’ I don’t have high expectations. Hopefully a complaint to the Ombudsman gets them to release those emails, or at least give some detail as to the content of them.

The first email in the release is to the Chairperson of the Health Select Committee, Simon O’Connor, from Dr Don Mackie, Chief Medical Officer, about the petition recently delivered by Tom Hamilton and 435 others. The first section is basically a summation of how crap we have it – services aren’t standardised, they’re sparse, and we’re often forced into the expensive private sector for what should be basic healthcare. The second talks about surgeries, overseas options, and the waitlist, and is basically what we already know – 73 people are on the combined AMAB/AFAB waitlist; 5 on the AMAB waitlist who have been already approved will be sent overseas “as soon as the Ministry can confirm an overseas provider”. The final section admits that “there has been little consideration of the provision of a comprehensive gender dysphoria service nationally” and “acknowledges that it is time to review the numbers publicly funded for GRS, and how these may be managed in a timely manner” (though it’s worth noting that in a later email in this release they state they have no timeline for this review).

The second email is, quite frankly, pretty horrific. It’s from a surgeon in Australia (Brisbane from the looks of it) who the MoH are considering as their overseas provider for AMAB GRS. He spends 99% of the email talking about his AFAB GRS experience and practice, stating only that he is “interested to expand this service for MtF [sic] patients at a later stage”. He makes zero mention of any experience performing AMAB GRS. If this is the Ministry’s choice, how can they justify it? A surgeon with no experience who currently doesn’t even perform the procedure they’re looking for? Are they willing to accept an even longer wait for trans fem people? An even longer wait for those 5 people already approved waiting for a provider?

The last email from MoH is in response to a doctor requesting information and clarification for a client about the waitlist and its criteria. The client made a complaint about the “lack of action on making a referral” for GRS. The doctor asks:

“I am aware that the only surgeon in NZ performing this surgery has now retired. In this context, can you please tell me exactly what level of gender reassignment surgery is currently funded via the SHCTP [Special High Cost Treatment pool]? Can you also tell me how you manage the referrals for such surgery and the large waitlist that I suspect must inevitably result. Assuming we are funding some small number of surgeries (in Australia perhaps?), are we able to share what number of people are already on a wait list for surgery so that a newly referred person knows that the wait will be a very, very long time and is [sic] public health funding is probably not a realistic solution for them.

“I am keen and it would be very helpful to be able to give this client accurate information and a realistic account of what she can expect from the public health system, assuming she meets all eligibility criteria (which I’m not confident she does anyway).”

Before even getting into the Ministry’s response the attitude towards GRS and trans healthcare in this email really unsettles me. The eligibility criteria referenced is pretty fucked – requiring 2 psychiatric reports, one psychologist report, and “demonstration of progress in transition” including “dealing with work, family, and interpersonal issues as well as significant improvement/stability in mental health”. Aside from the gatekeeping and hoop-jumping required by that many psych reports (as Megan says on twitter, does any other population need 3 psych reports to get on a funding waitlist?) the “demonstration of progress” shows a real lack of understanding as to trans experiences. My mental health hasn’t improved after coming out and starting transition, and it’s not because transition isn’t right for me. My MH was bad before, it’s bad now. While for the most part dysphoria is lesser and HRT has helped with gender issues, being an out trans woman means I have to face transmisogyny and violence on a daily basis. Show me any other population that faces daily aggression, micro and macro, without that having an impact on mental health. Same goes for “dealing with work, family, and interpersonal issues” – what about those with unsupportive families? Unsupportive workplaces? A social circle that refuses to accept them? What happens to those who end up isolated and alone after coming out? Does this render them ineligible for what is a lifesaving surgery?

Then there’s the super cavalier attitude to how long the waitlist is – realism is good, most of us already know what the wait will be like, but this email shows little to no concern as to this wait and the impact it has.

The response from the Ministry to this is the one where they talk about the timeframe for the waitlist review – “due to the increasing W/L we are looking to review these numbers, but no time frame yet”. Interestingly, they also state that they “should be able to send the first of the W/L off to the preferred provider this year”. This doesn’t align with the single provider they claim to have contacted (seeing as the scope of the request included any correspondence with overseas providers) who doesn’t even perform the procedure yet and likely has zero experience. Unless contact with another provider is in the three emails they withheld (not likely, considering they state these emails are between MoH and DHB) this timeframe seems unlikely, if not irresponsible.

At the very least the Ministry recommend to “always inform the patient fully [about waitlist times] and place them on the W/L anyway”.

Overall, the information included in this release is disappointing at best, worrying at worst. They seem to have made little progress as to an overseas provider, have no timeframe for reviewing the forty year long wait list, and discuss an overzealous, gatekeeping, and misinformed set of criteria for funding. The Ministry of Health need to do better, but while attitudes in this country – both public and political – consider GRS ‘nutty’ and ‘elective’ I don’t hold much hope. I don’t think I’ll ever get the surgery I need, publicly or privately.

Update 30/09: Thanks to some rumours from Oz and some quick detective work (squinting real hard at redacted names in their OIA release and cross-checking where he studied) we’ve found the name of the surgeon MoH are in touch with in Brisbane – Hans Goosser, a urologist with special interests in men’s health, erectile dysfunction, male infertility, and prosthetic surgery. He currently only sees ‘FtM’ patients but plans to expand – we’re still waiting to hear back from MoH about how this fits with their “later this year” timeline for sending ‘MtF’ patients off for surgery, or why this is the only surgeon they claim to have contacted about this.

NO PRIDE IN PRISONS: HUNGER STRIKE FOR JADE FOLLETT

Copied and pasted press release from No Pride in Prisons.

Transgender and queer activists are planning a hunger strike, demanding the transfer of an incarcerated trans woman to a women’s facility. Jade Follett is currently being held in the Rimutaka men’s prison, despite requesting more than two months ago to be transferred to a women’s prison.

According to the group, No Pride in Prisons, Jade is in a precarious situation. ‘We’ve received correspondence from Jade saying she requested transfer to a women’s facility in June, and has yet to see any action taken on behalf of the Department of Corrections,’ says spokesperson Jennifer Katherine Shields.

‘We are very worried about Jade. Although she’s a very strong woman, we know that a men’s prison is not a safe place for a trans woman.’

The group has pointed to a 2007 study which shows that trans women were 13 times more likely than the general population to be sexually assaulted in men’s prisons.

‘However,’ Shields says, ‘the reality of the problem for trans people in the New Zealand prisons cannot be fully known. Corrections refuses to collect and release adequate information about trans women in prison, despite numerous Official Information Act requests.’

‘We are also calling on Corrections to release information regarding the number of trans prisoners across the country, including what facilities they are being held in.’

The group has informed the Department of Corrections that if she is not moved before the 27th of August 2015, they will stage a hunger strike.

‘Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity. The fact that Corrections hasn’t done anything about this for two months shows their complete lack of respect for trans people.’

‘We are calling on corrections to immediately transfer Jade to a women’s facility for her to serve out the rest of her sentence.’

According to Movement 03.05.04 of the Department of Corrections’ Prison Operations Manual, all this requires is approval from the Corrections CEO, Ray Smith.

‘Ray Smith must give immediate approval for Jade’s transfer.’

Strikers include prominent community figures and advocates, such as Jennifer Katherine Shields, Emilie Rākete, Aaliyah Zionov, Chase Fox and others.

‘We will hold daily vigils on Auckland’s K’Road until Jade has been transferred.’

‘We will not allow corrections to continue its transphobic disregard of Jade’s safety.’

Silence from Corrections: Ongoing OIA Requests and Evasive Answers About Incarcerated Transgender People

Over the last few months a few of us – specifically Sophie Buchanan and Emilie Rākete – have been putting in Official Information Act request after request to the Department of Corrections to try figure the fuck out what’s going on with transgender people who are incarcerated. I wrote about this before Corrections marched in Pride – that post has a handy but harrowing list of facts about the current (so-called ‘updated’) policy on trans prisoners.

A quick summary:

  • currently trans people are imprisoned according to their birth certificate; to change your birth cert you gotta go through Family Courts, a long and pricey process not available to most.
  • A trans prisoner can be moved if any Corrections staff has “doubts” about their sex/gender; ‘doubts’ includes strip searches.
  • If a trans prisoner has been convicted of “serious sexual assault” (more on that term later) they can never be put in the correct facility, despite studies proving that 53% of transgender people in prisons experience sexual assault (compared to only 4.4% in the general population)

The OIA Requests:

  • May 21st: “Information about transgender prisoners
    • This request was for relatively simple information about how many transgender prisoners there are, where they are, and why they were placed there. It also asked about procedures in place to protect trans prisoners, as well as rates of abuse.
    • The Department of Corrections refused to answer this request, stating “we cannot readily extract statistics about numbers of current and former transgender prisoners from our records, as this information is noted on individual prisoner records, which are de-activated when they are released from custody. In order to identify this type of specific information, we would be required to manually review a large number of files” and that this would not be “an appropriate use of our publicly funded resources”. They restated this twice in response to all three parts of this OIA request.
    • In response to the question about why this information is not requested, DoC stated “we only obtain personal information to help meet our legal functions to improve public safety and reduce reoffending”.
    • To try get DoC to actually give us some information, Sophie complained to the Ombudsman and put in 4 more specific requests.
  • June 20th: “Current number of transgender and intersex inmates
    • This was a simple request: “please provide the number of transgender and intersex prisoners currently in the prison system, to the best of your knowledge.”
    • Department of Corrections responded a full 12 days after the legal due date for their response. Again, DoC refused the request, once more stating “we cannot readily extract statistics about numbers of current transgender prisoners from our electronic records, as this information is noted on individual prisoner records. In order to identify this type of specific information, we would be required to manually review a large number of files” and that it would not be “an appropriate use of our publicly funded resources”.
    • In response, Sophie Buchanan specifically requested the number of “transgender” flags affixed to individual prisoner files as required by Prison Operations Manual M.03.05.01.05, which states:
      • “The custodial systems manager or on-call manager must: a) update IOMS with “Transgender” Alert, and b) record in the Alerts Comment Box the decision on initial placement and all the information that was available to inform that decision.”
    • and that if DoC deemed this once again too difficult, that individual prison managers (or equivalent) give an estimate of the number of trans and intersex prisoners in their individual facilities. This request was made on the 17th of August and it is my understanding that DoC have a month to legally respond. They have not yet.
  • June 20th: “Conditions of segregation in prisons
    • This was another simple request:
      • “please go into detail about the conditions of segregation in New Zealand prisons. If this request is too general, please specifically explain the conditions under which someone would be held who was considered by themselves and/or prison staff to be at risk from the mainstream prison population.”
    • Corrections extended their due date for this request by an additional 20 working days, then responded. They outlined two forms of protective segregation, Directed Segregation, where a prisoner is placed in segregation when the Prison Director fears for their safety and kept in segregation until the Director no longer has this fear, or when three months is up, at which point the decision must be reviewed by a Visiting Justice. The second form is Voluntary Segregation, in which a prisoner fearing for their own safety is placed in segregation for protection. Corrections states that prisoners in either directed or voluntary segregation are usually permitted to mix freely with other segregated inmates, and that the vast majority of prisoners are segregated at their own request. However, Corrections then refused to respond to the specific questions of the request, stating that
      • “The Department does not compile or collect data on the segregation of prisoners due to their sex, gender, or sexuality.”
    • The Department did provide numbers of how many prisoners are segregated: in June 2015, 96 inmates are in directed segregation and 2169 are in voluntary segregation, for a total of 2265.
  • June 20th: “Number of prisoners currently segregated due to sex/gender/sexuality
    • Corrections have entirely ignored this request, sending zero responses even after two follow-up emails from Sophie. This request is legally long overdue and is eligible for a complaint to the Ombudsman.
  • June 20th: “Number of appeals against prison placement to date
    • This is possibly the most frustrating request and response. Sophie was very specific in her request, asking for
      • “the number of appeals against prison placement that have been made to the Chief Executive of the Department of Corrections to date under the 10 February 2014 amendment to the Corrections Regulations 2005″
    • as well as any documentations or guidelines referred to in the decision making process. It’s important to note the request to the CE of DoC as well as the specific amendment, because DoC ignored these details to totally dodge the question.
    • Corrections once again extended the deadline by 20 working days. They then responded by totally ignoring the specific question, talking about an entirely different policy, the Prisoner Placement System and a new facility in South Auckland. They also stated that no appeals have been made in reference to this policy and facility. No Pride in Prisons is in contact with a trans woman in a men’s facility who has requested a transfer and been waiting two months, so it is clear that this response is not related to the information request.
    • Sophie Buchanan responded to this question-dodging by pointing out their failure to comply:
      • My June 20th 2015 request for the “number of appeals against prison placement that have been made to the Chief Executive of the Department of Corrections to date under the 10 February 2014 amendment to the Corrections Regulations 2005” and their outcomes was referring to section M.03.05 in the Prison Operations Manual, which was put in place on February 10th, 2014, and regulates the placement and movement of transgender and intersex prisoners between facilities. The response I received, after 55 days, seems to refer to a completely different policy, the Prisoner Placement System which takes place at Auckland South Corrections Facility.

        Therefore I wish to clarify: under the Official Information Act, please disclose the number of appeals against prison placement that have been made under section M.03.05 in the Prison Operations Manual; that is, how many transgender people have requested to be moved to a different facility under the Department of Corrections’ purview for reasons of sex/gender. With respect to the privacy of the individuals involved, please also provide the outcomes of those appeals, i.e. the number of successful movements or refusals. Please include any documentation or guidelines consulted by the the Department in the process of making such decisions, and where possible please give details such as the nominated gender of the inmates and the facility they were in/requested to move to.

    • This request was made on the 17th of August; Corrections have not responded yet.
  • August 14th: “POM M.03.05.Res.01 Schedule of Serious Sexual Offences
    • I put this request in for Correction’s list of what qualifies as a “serious sexual offence” that renders a trans person ineligible to be transferred to the correct facility. Resources 2 and 3 were available on the site, but this was not. Just checking now they have made it available, but have not responded to my request.
  • August 21st: “Requests for Prison Transfer for Transgender Prisoners
    • Another NPIP member, Tim, asked for details on transfers: how many have been made, how many are pending, how many have been accepted and rejected, and how long the average waiting time is. Corrections are legally required to respond to this request by September 18th.

Overwhelmingly, Corrections’ attitude has been one of silence and evasion. As Emilie says on twitter: “Corrections is actively smokescreening all attempts to actually check if they’re housing trans ppl safely. What are we meant to conclude from this behaviour other than that they have something to hide? like, massive human rights abuse, perhaps? In her letter to No Pride In Prisons, Jade Follett said she applied for transfer in June. As of 31 July [note: as at 21 August this is still true], she is still in a men’s facility. To be clear: The only data we have on Corrections treatment of trans inmates shows that they ARE NOT reassigning us to the right facilities. if this was not the case, Corrections would be leaping to demonstrate that. Instead they are actively obstructing all efforts to check. So what are they hiding? From the context we can only conclude a massive failing to implement policies designed to protect trans safety.”

Where Andrew “quite happy with my gender” Little Went Wrong

Today Labour voted on and passed a policy for free gender reassignment surgery for the second time at a regional conference. Seeing as the current waitlist is longer than our average lifespan, this sounds like good news!

Until you read the coverage, and how the higher-ups in the party responded.

“I’m quite happy with my gender” – Andrew Little

Andrew Little apparently hasn’t given the policy any thought, and stated that he was happy with his gender. Okay, great for you, so am I, but just because you don’t have any problems doesn’t mean the rest of us have to go without surgery that’ll save lives and significantly improve mental health and living conditions.

Then there was Stuart Nash, MP for Napier, pulling the “we just don’t have those people here” we’re all too familiar with:

“To be honest, never once in Napier has anyone ever said they’re not going to vote for Labour because we’re not funding gender reassignment surgery.”

The thing is, Nash, there are definitely transgender people in Napier. In fact, with an electorate population of about 70,000, there are probably at least 500 transgender people in your electorate (judging from the 1.2% gained from the Youth12 data). And even if there somehow weren’t, does that mean that transgender people outside your electorate don’t deserve access to healthcare? Would you do this for every group of people with specific healthcare needs? If they’re not in your electorate, they don’t matter? Would you ignore the needs of at least 500 of your constituents if it were any other group of people?

Little and Nash’s views reflect a very serious problem: they don’t care about our healthcare needs, not when it’ll come at the cost of votes. Nash was quoted saying “I don’t think it’s an issue that’s important to the people of New Zealand”. Because public popularity is more important than our lives.

This issue is important to those affected by it. This ‘issue’ is our lives and our well-being. This is a human rights issue, not a policy popularity one.

Cheers to those within Labour who are pushing for this. To the rest: sharpen the fuck up.

I wrote about trans healthcare, lives, and safety in reference to state violence last month: read here

I also spoke about this issue and Labour’s response with GayNZ: read here

Finally, read my appeal for fundraising help here

Census 2018 and Gender Identity

Statistics NZ are considering including a question on gender identity in the next census. This is great! What’s not so great is their current recommendation is to exclude it on the basis that it could be a confusing question, because to most people the distinction between sex and gender is confusing.

Here’s the wording:

Due to a lack of a classification, we have not tested possible questions on gender identity. Whether a standalone question would work on a self-completed form such as the census is not well understood. People may confuse or not understand the difference between ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ which are conceptually different, and not interchangeable.

Stats are important. They’re incredibly useful for advocacy work. The Youth12 data has been incredibly useful to many of us for pushing for a hard line. They tell us that our trans and gender diverse youth are suffering from mental illness, self-harm, suicide, bullying, abuse. We’re able to put this data to universities, schools, and other institutions to prove to them that they need to do better.

That’s why I’m upset about this. The Youth12 data was helpful but this would be an even bigger step forward. Having relatively concrete data on the amount of trans and gender diverse people in the country would help significantly for many advocates pushing on the government and NGOs for change. Letting that go just because the question may cause confusion seems a weak response compared to the potential improvement in living conditions and the lives saved.

So I’m going to be pushing for this to be changed on the Census’ Loomio, and I ask that others do too.

March in Remembrance of Leelah Alcorn and in Support of Gender Education in Schools

On Saturday 10 January 2015, from 2pm starting in QEII square in Britomart, Auckland CBD, a group of trans people and their allies will march in remembrance of Leelah Alcorn and in support of gender education in schools. The march will end in Aotea Square

Leelah Alcorn suffered massive abuse from her parents and bullying in schools, both influenced by the culture of transmisogyny our society operates under.

Currently sex and gender education is optional in NZ, with many principals believing they have no queer or trans students in their schools. ERO has no indicator in any of their reviews as to how safe and accepting schools are for queer and trans students. Young trans people suffer heightened rates of depression, self-harm, and suicide. They also report lowered rates of support from parents and friends, and heightened rates of fear of being harmed at school.

Teaching gender in schools will go a long way towards beginning to dismantle this culture of transphobia and transmisogyny, and improving the living conditions of trans youth in our country.

Join the march event page on Facebook, sign the petition to support gender education in schools, and be there on Saturday if you can.