Calls for prison reform after death of transgender woman

risdon prison tasmania marjorie harwood transgender woman prison
Photo: Rosemary Harwood

The death of a transgender woman allegedly raped at a Tasmanian prison in 2018 has sparked a petition calling for better protection of trans inmates.

Warning: Distressing content

Hobart trans woman Marjorie Harwood was jailed for theft offences in 2017. She was placed in the men’s section of Risdon Prison because her birth certificate listed her as male.

While there, Marjorie was allegedly raped by five men and hospitalised, requiring a colostomy bag.

In 2018, Marjorie returned to hospital for a kidney-related illness, a condition she’d battled since childhood.

However fearing a return to custody in Risdon Prison, Marjorie refused the medical treatment and died.

Marjorie didn’t report the alleged rape at the time. However her mother Rosemary Harwood said Marjorie said she “wanted to die” after the abuse.

In April 2019, the Tasmanian Parliament passed laws making it easier to amend sex markers on birth certificates.

Marjorie’s mother believes if those laws existed earlier, Marjorie would not have died.

“Transgender prisoners deserve to serve their sentences safe from abuse and assault,” she said.

“Had Marjorie been housed with the women’s population at Risdon she would still be alive today.

“Transgender people are falling through the cracks. [They are] getting sexually and physically assaulted in prison due to inadequate protection and staff training.

“Currently, across Australia, transgender people are being misgendered and incorrectly housed in prison.

“[This] is putting them in constant danger of sexual and physical assault.

“A transgender person must be housed according to their gender identity. Otherwise people will continue to be hurt and will continue to die in our prison system.”

Petition calls for better protection for trans inmates

Advocate and family friend Ben Dudman launched the petition calling for “better protection and treatment” for trans people in Australia’s prison systems.

The petition calls for more training for correctional staff. It also calls for prisons to enforce policies to house transgender people according to gender identity.

“Tasmania has a policy to house transgender people based on their gender identity,” Dudman said.

“But it is no use having a policy if you don’t go through with it.”

Tasmanian Justice department says prison staff receive training

A spokesperson for the Tasmania Department of Justice wouldn’t comment on Marjorie Harwood’s alleged rape.

The spokesperson said it wasn’t appropriate to comment on the allegations “for privacy reasons, and considering legal action has been foreshadowed.”

The spokesperson said correctional officers receive diversity training as part of their intensive 10-week training program.

This is to ensure they “develop an understanding of the needs of LGBTI prisoners so they can respond to their needs.”

“The Tasmania Prison Service has a comprehensive policy for transgender, transsexual and intersex prisoners. [The policy] prioritises safety, and treats prisoners with dignity and respect,” the spokesperson said.

“Upon entry into custody, prisoners are able to self-identify as transgender, transsexual or intersex.

“Provided that the safety and security of the prison is not compromised, transgender, transsexual and intersex prisoners have the right to be housed in a correctional facility appropriate to their gender identification.”

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