Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Systems and Responsibilities: No Universal Policy for Transgendered Inmates

Since there is no universal policy with respect to transgendered people in prisons and they are handled on a case by case basis there is a lot of room for poor treatment and inadequate services for them while incarcerated. Discrimination against transgendered inmates occurs at the federal level and trickles down into the institutional framework. In both cases, transgendered inmates do not have access to the same resources as the mainstream prison population, and this is certainly problematic in terms of their human rights.
Take, for example at the federal level, the idea that Corrections Canada has recognized the need for suitable, gender specific interventions. Policies were changed to address the particular needs of women, and the Prison for Women (P4W) was closed down because it was criticized heavily for its lack of suitable programs. Incarcerated women currently receive programming directly intended for women in conflict with the law (http://www.csc-scc.gc.ca/text/releases/00-07-06_e.shtml); likewise, male programming targets male offenders. The way in which transgendered offenders are placed however, means that programming is limited to the institution they are placed in, which, by nature does not address the needs of the gender they associate themselves with and contradicts Corrections Canada’s intention to provide specified services. It is important to note that the change in policies for female offenders holds both the institution and the staff members responsible for meeting the criteria as set out in the policies.
No universal policy also means that, at the institutional level, prison staff members are not held accountable for any injustices towards transgendered people. Front-line prison employees are responsible for the detailed transmission of information about daily occurrences in the facility, often referred to as ‘shift change’. In this framework, when passing on information about an inmate who is transgendered, pertinent information may not be passed on because it may not seem important. This practice may also become a breeding ground for inappropriate dialogue regarding the transgendered individual. Further, given that correctional facilities exist in both the private and public realms, treatment towards transgendered inmates may differ from facility to facility, or even from shift to shift. Inconsistencies in attitudes and beliefs manifest and negatively impact the environment as a whole. In these instances, the transgendered individual may be treated fairly during the day shift, and poorly during the afternoon shift sending conflicting and often traumatizing messages not only to the inmate, but to other inmates and other employees.
When considering the existing policies around SRS, operating on a case by case basis means that anyone who wants the surgery has to be held under a microscope. Relaying of information in this sense may come in the form of logging daily routines, behaviours and activities between front-line staff, prison officials and the gender identity specialist. Therefore, any decisions with respect to SRS may be hindered by factors that the transgendered inmate has no control over.

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