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(Disclaimer – No content or images in this article is intended to offend, discriminate against, or insult anyone nor their opinions, beliefs, or views based on gender identity or sexual orientation, and is for educational and informational purposes only.)


Life as a man or woman who is transgender can include challenges ranging from severe negative judgment to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity to tragic violence, abuse, suicide, and murder. Many people in society face challenges in life and wish to feel understood, accepted, and respected. Transgender people are no different even if others may not condone or agree with their opinions, beliefs, or perspectives.


The research for this article is based on studies in America and England. It shows that discrimination from family members, colleagues, employers, landlords, and others can push transgender people into illegal activities to survive and can place them at a higher risk of getting in criminal trouble with the law and becoming incarcerated. This article will discuss What Are Some Of The Best Ways For Transgender People To Cope In Prison?

How The Prison Housing System Affects Transgender Men And Women


The prison experience for men and women who are transgender can include the difficulties of the outside world. Transgender people experience a rigid and controlled environment like other vulnerable inmates. This experience coupled with them being a man or woman who is transgender can make it much more harmful if others view and treat them more negatively.


The prison housing system is one that is categorized by gender. As a result of this, one of the most significant problems transgender people face in prison is housing. Prisons worldwide tend to place transgender people according to their sex at birth. In the United States, oftentimes, only transgender women who have undergone sex reassignment surgery can be in women's prisons. It is imperative to state that not all transgender people have undergone sex reassignment surgery nor may intend to.


New Jersey and California are among a hand full of U.S. states that have adopted a policy that requires state prisons to house transgender people according to their gender identity rather than their sex assigned at birth. In countries such as England and Wales, transgender people are placed according to their gender as recognized by the law. Upon completing a sex reassignment surgery, transgender people can apply to have their legally recognized gender changed to their acquired gender.

Once this application is approved, transgender people can receive a Gender Recognition Certificate under the Gender Recognition Act of 2004. Only people with this certificate can live in prison according to their gender identity.

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Typically, transgender people who have not undergone sex reassignment surgery do not live in prison according to their gender identity. This situation becomes a precedent for subsequent problems faced in prison, and affected people are at a higher risk of physical and sexual abuse.


Transgender inmates can also receive a denial of access to a diagnosis of gender dysphoria and sex reassignment surgery. Gender dysphoria is a conflict between a person's biological gender and the gender they perceive themselves to be.


Sex Reassignment Surgery serves to change an individual’s genitalia to that of the gender they identify as being. Denial of these services may promote further identity confusion, low self-esteem, self-mutilation, and an increased risk of mental health issues. Sarah Baker, who identified as a transgender woman, was serving life imprisonment in the United Kingdom, and reportedly cut off his testicles with a razor. She reportedly became frustrated with being denied estrogen.


Gay, lesbian, and bisexual prisoners are also a part of the most vulnerable groups in the prison population when coping with their incarcerated environment and with their circumstances. Like transgender people, they are also more prone to physical and sexual attacks from inmates and prison officials alike. While they mostly live with the general population, some American prisons have had to separate transgender people due to how vulnerable their community is in prison.


Members of Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, and Transgender (LGBT) communities can suffer these attacks for being openly gay or lesbian or even being perceived as gay or lesbian. As the years go by, the rate of reported physical and sexual abuse against members of the LGBT community continues to increase.

Issues Faced By The Transgender Population In Prison


The actual number of the transgender population in prison is unknown. First, some transgender people may fear revealing their gender identity as it can predispose them to negative judgment, criticism, and violent attacks by inmates and prison staff.


Second, research on the experience of transgender people is not as popular as it could be. It is an under-researched area generally. However, as of 2019, the United Kingdom counts approximately 163 transgender prisoners. This number is an underestimate as it does not include people who hold the Gender Recognition Certificate.


In 2011, the National Transgender Discrimination Survey of the United States of America in a study revealed that 35% of transgender Americans who are people of color had been in prison due to what is perceived to be anti-transgender bias, as opposed to the 4% of white transgender people who also took part in the survey. Transgender people of color generally had much higher rates of experiences while in incarceration (47% of people of color against 12% of Caucasian transgender people). The survey also reveals that 38% of transgender women who are people of color had been sexually assaulted in jail compared to 12% of Caucasian transgender women prisoners.


In late 2015, two transgender women placed in male prisons, Vicky Thompson and Joanne Latham, committed suicide. Vicky Thompson had reportedly said to friends that she would kill herself if she experienced placement in a male prison. Joanne Latham had never applied for a transfer to a female prison. These two cases and other similar cases before and after them indicate that transgender inmates live in dangerous conditions that can force and often push them to extreme circumstances. Besides the sexual and physical abuse, transgender inmates have spoken about the indignity that comes with pat-downs, shared shower areas, denial of gender-affirming dress codes, and the misuse of pronouns by prison staff and other inmates.

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Safety Policies And Measures That May Help Transgender Inmates To Cope In Prison


Prison policies for transgender inmates are facing review in some parts of the United States. The U.S. currently has a policy in place that allows the housing of transgender prisoners to be determined case by case. Compared to housing transgender people strictly by their sex at birth, it is deemed a step in the right direction for transgender people.


Some states in the U.S. have additional policies to make prison life easier for transgender men and women, such as transgender support groups, workout clubs, allowance of gender-affirming clothes, and so on. In 2015, a transgender woman imprisoned in California sued the state prison system for denial of access to sex reassignment surgery. California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation settled the case, the surgery was granted, and a guideline was created for transgender inmates to seek approval for the surgery.


In 2019, the United Kingdom's Ministry of Justice announced the opening of a prison unit for transgender inmates. This move came after repeated calls for a reform of the prison housing system for transgender people. The Ministry also said that how the United Kingdom's prison system manages transgender inmates is ongoing. Prison policy topics regarding transgender inmates are complex, controversial, and multi-dimensional.


However, it is reportedly moving at a fast pace in the United Kingdom. Generally, it seems like the only way to make it a lot easier for transgender people to cope in prison is through government or bureaucratic policies to effect change in the prison housing system along with diversity training and other considered measures for transgender people.


It is important for transgender men and women to learn about and utilize all available internal prison and/or external community resources and agencies, that offer any social and support services for transgender people, before, during, or after dealing with any incarceration. Everyone in society can stand to benefit from learning and knowing the laws pertaining to discrimination and human rights, regardless.


Staying emotionally and physically safe are primary goals. Incarcerated transgender people should not feel maliciously singled out, mistreated, or abused regardless of whether other prisoners and staff do not agree with their views, beliefs, opinions, and/or lifestyles. 


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Life as a transgender man or woman in prison can be more difficult to cope with than it is for other prisoners who are not transgender. Some people in society may not agree with the views, opinions, and/or lifestyles of incarcerated transgender men and women. Transgender men and women, like other vulnerable prisoners or groups, can be subjected to heightened discrimination, violence, and abuse.


For men and women who identify as transgender, surviving outside of prison may already pose challenges when seeking to obtain and maintain employment and housing whether they disclose their gender identity or their gender identity is questioned. Safety and prison housing issues can also affect how transgender people cope while in prison.


Some research from studies in America and England shows that people who are transgender, like others, may feel compelled to engage in illegal activities to survive and discrimination from family members, colleagues, employers, and landlords. Negative stereotypes, a lack of support, and negative judgment can put them at a higher risk of getting in trouble with the law.


Besides the sexual and physical abuse, incarcerated transgender people may deal with the indignity that comes with strip searches, pat-downs, shared shower areas, denial of gender-affirming dress codes, and the misuse of pronouns by prison staff and other inmates. The transgender experience in prison can contain the same or similar difficulties of the outside world (or worse) within a rigid and controlled environment. These challenges and circumstances can make it much more harmful to how transgender prisoners may cope within a more rigid and confined environment.




For more information on incarcerated transgender people, click the links, below: (Disclaimer: Affiliate Advertising. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.)


Feminized In Prison (Transformation, Feminization, Transgender) Kindle Edition By Nikki Crescent


Transgender Behind Prison Walls Paperback – March 15, 2017

by Sarah Jane Baker (Author), Pam Stockwell (Foreword)


The Women of San Quentin - Soul Murder of Transgender Women in Male Prisons Hardcover – September 15, 2015 By Kristin Schreier Lyseggen (Author)


(Disclaimer: To the best of our knowledge, the information provided in this article is up to date as of January 2021.)