It has emerged that a second transgender woman incarcerated in a male prison has died. According to the BBC and Huffington Post, Joanne Latham, 38 was found unresponsive in her cell at the all male HMP Woodhall in MIlton Keynes on Friday morning. Attempts to resuscitate her failed and she was pronounced dead at the scene.
Joanne had barricaded her cell door and obscured the observation panel before hanging herself. She was serving a life sentence for three attempted murders and was reported to be in the early stages of transition. Given the prevalence of poor mental health in transgender people and the reports of transphobic abuse being inflicted upon both Tara Hudson and Vicky Thompson by male inmates, it is inevitable that the role of these serious factors in Joanne’s suicide will be closely examined.
This second death of a transwoman in an all male prison follows the death, apparently by suicide, of Vicky Thompson, 21, in the male HMP Leeds on the 13th November, and the public outcry over the incarceration of Tara Hudson in HMP Bristol in October that resulted in her being moved to a female prison. Both had stated they would kill themselves if sent to a male prison to partners or family members.
Ministry of Justice (MoJ) guidelines states that all prisoners should be placed according to their gender “as recognised by UK law”, which is usually as stated on their birth certificate.
If a trans person obtains a gender recognition certificate (GRC), a new birth certificate will have been issued. However, obtaining a GRC is a long, costly and complex procedure.
MoJ guidelines regarding trans prisoners have been recently severely criticised in case of trans woman Tara Hudson who sent in an all male prison, and was eventually moved to a female jail after a massive campaign.
The MoJ was already urgently reviewing it’s housing policy towards transgender prisoners in the wake of Vicky Thompson’s death and will undoubtedly face difficult questions in the wake of Joanne’s suicide. At the time of the MP’s evidence-giving session of the Women’s and Equality Select Committee Transgender Inquiry on the 30th of October, Caroline Dinenage MP of the MoJ strongly implied that current Prison Service guidelines were fit-for-purpose in determining the location transgender prisoners are incarcerated in. Two apparent suicides of transwomen in MoJ care less than an month after her words would seem to indicate this is not the case.
However a petition on the UK Government and Parliament website created by prominent transgender rights activist Stephen Whittle immediately after Vicky Thompson’s death, calling for all transgender prisoner to be immediately moved to gender-appropriate facilities was withdrawn without explanation after several days where the UK Government claimed they were ‘verifying’ it. It gathered just five signatures before access to signing it was blocked. A new petition has been placed calling for the placement of all trans prisoners in a safe and gender appropriate housing has been submitted.