An academic from the University of Cumbria, whose pioneering research documents the little-reported experience of transgender offenders in prison, has won national recognition.
Dr Alison Spurgeon-Dickson, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the university is one of only a handful of academics in the country collecting primary evidence on the lived experience of transgender offenders in the prison system.
Her research caught the attention of Lord Patel of Bradford OBE who invited her to contribute to a review of the health and social care needs of transgender offenders and she was subsequently invited to a reception at the House of Lords for its launch.
She says that the aim of her research is to raise awareness of the specific needs of transgender prisoners and identify and share best practice across the whole criminal justice system.
“We must have greater awareness of gender variations so that transgender prisoners can be better accommodated within binary institutions,” said Dr Alison Spurgeon-Dickson. “‘Transgender’ is an umbrella term that collectively describes a range of gender identities. More specific identification of the variations could enable prisons to better meet the individual needs of their transgender prisoners.”
Her report shines a spotlight on the binary nature of the prison system, which currently only provides exclusively male and female facilities. She says it does not reflect the fluidity of gender evident in society today.
“Not all transgender individuals seek medical interventions to masculinise or feminise their appearance, but may express their gender identities in other ways. Gender diversity can be seen by some as going against culturally accepted gender norms. Gender identity does not always present as static, and there are some people whose gender definition is more fluid” she said.
Alison suggests that one way of addressing transgender prisoners’ needs and focusing limited resources could be to house all transgender individuals in one establishment. A suggestion subject to further debate and scrutiny at a parliamentary level.
Alison was invited to a reception at the House of Lords on Tuesday 23 January for the launch of ‘Inside gender identity: A report on meeting health and social care needs of transgender people in the criminal justice system’.
The review is the first comprehensive look at the complex problems and needs of transgender offenders within the criminal justice system. Next steps are to form an all-party parliamentary group to take forward the recommendations of the review.
Alison’s research, which contributed to the review, was conducted with subjects who had experience of several prisons. Her in-depth qualitative study involved extensive interviews and analysis of diary entries.