Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Ideologies and Transgendered Inmates

An ideology can be seen as “a comprehensive vision, or as in a set of ideas proposed by the dominant class of a society to all members of that society” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ideology). Ideologies surrounding gender identity are revealed through institutions. They relay information about what is perceived as ‘normal’. Dominant ideologies, which are ideologies held by people in power, permeate into institutions such as prisons. Dominant ideologies that support categories of either male or female create inequalities for transgendered inmates and have a large influence on how they are treated in prison. They are often subject to inadequate practices and poor staff attitudes; this can be said to perpetuate the oppression of transgendered inmates.
Transphobia is evident in prisons. Transgendered inmates are often harassed, abused and treated unfairly due to the social stigma placed on them. Some prisons place transgendered inmates in protective custody (PC) or segregation to help ensure their safety. Although this practice is an attempt to assist the transgendered inmate population, it is to their detriment. Transgendered inmates placed in PC are often housed with sex offenders – a place where they are vulnerable to sexual violence and exploitation ( http://prisonjustice.ca/).
Segregated transgendered inmates are faced with either spending potentially harmful time isolated from others, or placed back into the general prison public where they are targets for physical and/or sexual assaults. While segregated, offenders receive little to no programming and minimal interaction with both staff and inmates – programming and interaction that they are entitled to, especially since they are not in segregation for disciplinary reasons. Since segregation is frequently used as a disciplinary measure, the transgendered inmate may, by the very way in which they are supposed to be protected by the institution, internalize their segregation as a punishment, repressing them further. Also, the act of segregating transgendered inmates only feeds into the perceptions around transgendered people as a marginalized group by separating them and housing them in less than adequate conditions.
Transgendered inmates not only face discrimination in terms of how or where they spend their time while incarcerated; they also are discriminated against on a daily basis. They are subject to sexism by both inmates and prison guards whom all carry with them the idea that trans people are less than, or not as deserving as, they are. As Barbara Findlay, a lawyer who acts on behalf of the transgendered community states, like other oppressed groups, transgendered people are at a higher risk of criminal behaviour than others for reasons that are attributed to their transgendered status (http://www.barbarafindlay.com/articles/45.pdf). Thus, it is imperative to consider how prison perceptions have a negative impact on the journey towards gender identity.
For further information about ideologies and transgender inequality, see: http://www.greenleft.org.au/1999/363/18687

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