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Comment: The Transgender Prisoners Debate, Part III

Sun 18 Oct 2015 In: Politics and Religion View at Wayback View at NDHA

I cannot blame No Pride in Prisons for expressing their anger and frustration at the mismanagement of Corrections policy when it comes to transgender prisoners. Unbelievably, there has now been a third case where a transwoman's life, health and safety are under threat. In this instance, the offending party is Gisborne's District Court presiding judge, Warren Cathcart.  When Daytona Haenga (29) came before Judge Cathcart after committing credit card fraud and taking $2038 from an elderly woman's bank account, he argued that her "lifestyle choice" did not entitle her to "special privileges". The judge said that he had not been given any "case law authority"  or evidence that showed that transgender prisoners were at particular risk.  Judge Cathcart did not seem aware that the Department of Corrections had changed its policy to transfer transitioning transgender prisoners to gender-appropriate prisons under the tenure of Anne Tolley, the prior Key administration Minister for Corrections.   Judge Cathcart appears woefully ignorant of the current American Psychological Association categorisation of gender dysphoria, which states that this condition is a legitimate and entrenched psychological condition which is best accommodated through psychotherapy, counselling, eventual hormone treatment and corrective surgery. It is hardly therefore a "lifestyle choice." Moreover, Ms Haenga has already been exposed to the risk of sexual violence at her remand facility, which required her segregation from male prisoners. She is clearly in danger from imprisonment within a gender inappropriate correctional institution. Granted, she should serve time in a gender-appropriate correctional facility for her crime, but that is not the issue at stake here.  In what way does protecting someone from sexual violence confer 'special privileges' on that person? It does not. Moreover, New Zealand is a signatory to numerous international agreements committing us to humane treatment of incarcerated individuals and these rule out 'cruel and unusual punishment.' As the Equal Justice Project pointed out in 2013, one such treaty is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  Where is the proportionality in punishing credit card fraud by exposing its perpetrator to the risk of sexual violation? This strikes me as a somewhat unsafe decision and I call on current Corrections Minister Sam Lotu-Iliga to intervene in this case and order Ms Haenga to be conveyed to a woman's prison to serve her sentence. Not doing so could prove risky to the government if someone decides to take up the issue at an international human rights forum.  No Pride's Emilie Rakete is indeed correct when she says that transwomen in gender-inappropriate correctional facilities are thirteen times more likely to be sexually assaulted than cismale counterparts. New Zealand has the seventh highest incarceration rate in the OECD and that is disproportionately Maori. It is indeed a horrific form of intersectionality insofar as racism and transphobia are concerned that threatens the life, health and safety of transwomen. I'd like to recommend a recent US book on the intersection of racism, economic inequality and transphobia, Queer Necropolitics (2014), from this perspective. There are two chapters about institutional racism and transphobia within that book which might be constructively applied to New Zealand. ("Necropolitics" is policy that imparts harm, injury and death as part of a repressive government apparatus, such as the police, armed forces, or correctional personnel against a vulnerable constituency ie transwomen of colour).  I would encourage concerned parties- whether No Pride in Prisons, the Equal Justice Project, Justspeak or any other organisation committed to transgender equality- to do just that- take the next step and bring the issue of transgender prisoner abuse to an international forum.  Recommended: Equal Justice Project: Transgender Prisoners Rights: http:// equaljusticeproject.co.nz/ 2013/06/t ransgender-prisoners/ Justspeak Transgender Prisoner Rights Release: 04.04.2014: http://justspeak. org.nz/wp-content/uploads/ 2012/06/JustSpeak- Concerned-About-Transgender- Prisoner-Rights-4-April-2014. pdf Strongly Recommended: No Pride in Prisons: http:// www.noprideinprisons.org.nz Jin Haritaworn, Adi Kunstman and Silvia Possocco (ed): Queer Necropolitics: Routledge: New York: 2014. see especially: Chapter 7: S.Lamble: "Queer Investments in Punitiveness: Sexual Citizenship, Social Movements and the Expanding Carceral State." and Chapter 8: Elijah Adiv Edelman: "Walking While Transgendered: Necropolitical Regulation of Trans Feminine Bodies of Colour in the Nation's Capital." Craig Young - 18th October 2015    

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Sunday, 18th October 2015 - 10:17pm

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