Prisons, Cartabia reform: respect the rights of trans people without making women pay the price

Possible measures include the establishment of trans wards adjacent to women's sections to avoid violence from men. But space for inclusion cannot be found by asking for a step backwards from female prisoners, who are forced to share cells with males who identify themselves as women. It happens in Canada, in California, in Scotland. And there is already an Italian case
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Justice Minister Marta Cartabia announced that she would commit the month of January to prison reform. The discussion on the text is ongoing. In this print summary highlights.

One of the topics under discussion is the issue of transgender prisoners. According to the article "there is a specific action for the anti-discrimination protection on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. It is proposed that a circular be adopted to regulate the homogeneous sections for transgender or self-declared homosexual personsand fear being subjected to acts of prevarication because of their personal circumstances, giving preference to experiments that have led (e.g. section D of the 'Sollicciano' institute in Florence, which is currently closed) to join the MaleToFemale transgender prisoner sections to women's institutes or sections, rather than male, in order to give precedence - and to be able to count on more trained staff in this respect - to to the sex of identification instead of the purely biological one".

Obviously, it would be necessary to have the draft text in order to verify that it actually mentions ".gender identification' and gender identity.

At the moment we can only observe that if it is true that women-trans people deserve special protection from male violence - let's call a spade a spade - this cannot happen, as in Canada, California, Washington state, Scotland and other western nations, at the expense of women housed in women's prisons.

By expenses we mean rape and assault, harassment, sexually transmitted diseases, even unwanted pregnancies (we have talked about it several times) and in general the violence of having to share restricted spaces with people who self-identify - often opportunistically - as women while retaining male genitals and bodies.

One study published in British Journal of Criminology reports that in Scotland several transgender prisoners serving sentences in women's prisons have reverted to identifying as their male birth sex after release. This was revealed by sources inside the prisons. The news has raised new concerns about gender self-identification that puts women's safety at risk, but Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon is preparing to bring forward gender recognition legislation.

Even more shocking revelation from US Federal Bureau of Prisons -therefore a very official source- according to which almost 50 per cent of trans-identified male prisoners were incarcerated for sexual offencescompared to 11% of the male prison population as a whole. In particular, according to the document48.47 per cent of male prisoners who identify as women are in prison for sexual offences, compared to 4.71 per cent of biological women who identify as men.

Carceri, riforma Cartabia: si rispettino i diritti delle persone trans senza farne pagare il prezzo alle donne

This figure should be read with caution: it does not mean that transgender people are more likely to commit sexual offences than non-T people. Rather, it means that many male sex offenders choose to transidentify as women in order to gain advantages and facilities, including from a sentencing perspective.

How are things in Italy?

The transition path is regulated by law 164/82 which enables a change of sex at the civil register office after a long process involving psychological support, medical expertise, drug therapy and major' surgery (demolition of the birth genitals). It must be said, however, that the law was formulated above all for the MtF transition (from male to female), which at the time was absolutely the majority (FtMs were very rare), whereas today the proportions are reversed among adolescents with dysphoria.

It must also be said, however, that some subsequent judgments have substantially amended the law: Today, a change of sex at the civil registry office, while still requiring the procedure indicated in 164/82, can also be obtained without genital demolition surgery.

This implies that a MtF transsexual who is recognised as a woman at the registry office can retain his genital apparatus and his secondary male sexual characteristics. It is not a question of gender self-determination (not a real self-id)At the moment in Italy it should not be possible to opportunistically identify oneself as a woman in order to request to be transferred to a women's prison, as is the case elsewhere.

But a previous in Sollicciano prison (Florence) raises many concernslast year a transsexual detainee already registered as a woman - but with male genitalia - was transferred from the trans section to the women's section following a court order of surveillance, according to which "It is well known that, according to the most recent trends, male and female identities do not cover all possible identities: the 'male and female identity' is not the only one.gender identity in fact it does not correspond to the dualistic simplification of man/woman but is a continuum from masculine to feminine and vice versa".

The court, reads the ruling, ordered "assign A. L. to the women's section of the prison, corresponding to her gender identity, prohibiting her from remaining in the 'transsexual' section of the Florence-Sollicciano prison without her consent or any other institution with a special section with the same characteristics".

The inmates' discomfort - sharing space with a person with male genitalia - was not considered sufficient reason. According to the judges, the refusal of the trans woman detainee to be housed in the trans section was prevailing.

Again, therefore, the logic of 'inclusiveness' prevailed over the rights and feelings of the women prisoners. The idea is that it is always up to the women to take a step back and give up their basic rights in order to create the necessary space for inclusion.

Given the precedent and what is happening in women's prisons in many Western countries, concerns about the possible effects of the Cartabia reform are more than well-founded.

The hope is that ways are found to ensure the protection and dignity of transgender people without violating the human rights of women prisoners. And that the text does not surreptitiously introduce the concept of gender identity, an attempt which - particularly since the 'fall' of the Zan bill onwards - has run through a large number of local laws and regulations, in a logic of 'encirclement'.

Marina Terragni (co-authored by Maria Celeste)


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