The BBC reported today that Italy was to open its first prison to serve specifically transgender prison population. In terms of its policy and service, such a move is welcome and progressive.
The US, however, doesn’t have specific institutions for its transgendered inmates, instead it employs the following policy:
Transsexual people who have not had genital surgery are generally classified according to their birth sex for purposes of prison housing, regardless of how long they may have lived as a member of the other gender, and regardless of how much other medical treatment they may have undergone. Transsexual people who have had genital surgery are generally classified and housed according to their reassigned sex.
This rigid policy can result in housing a woman (male-to-female trans) with a male inmate in the same cell. When this occurs, violent and/or sexual assault is common. Karen Franklin PhD posits that the prison system in the US establishes for transgendered youth a track toward future incarceration;
Transgender youth who get caught up in the juvenile justice system face extreme hostility and abuse at the hands of judges, counselors, correctional staff, and even their own court-appointed attorneys. They are more likely than other youths to be given harsh punishment in maximum-security institutions. This, of course, is part of the channeling toward adult prison.
So Italy is leading by example? Well, yes and no. The prison at Pozzale (near Florence) was formerly a women’s prison subject to senior staff abuses, consequent court battles and ongoing bureaucracy ensuring mismanagement of resources. Recently it has housed only two inmates while other prisons in the area were overcrowded. The transgender prison is the socially-responsible solution; a new start for an institution with a corrupt past.
There is a total dearth of photographs of this institution, but also of trangender prisoners in the media today. I hadn’t paid it any thought until I was pressed to search for images for this post. I hope and expect that photojournalists will document activities at the prison once the new inmates arrive. It is a worthy story; there is a need. I suspect the Italian authorities would want to put a positive media spin on the story, and also on the trangender realities that are unfortunately still uncomfortable and/or controversial for some members of the public.