Research on transgender prisoners

Persoon met bordje trans rights are human rights

Pauline Jacobs is a university lecturer en researcher mainly concerned with criminal (procedural) law, human rights and penitentiary law (the law that relates to the execution of sentences and measures). She conducts research into vulnerable detainees, more specifically transgender prisoners.

In recent years, support for the classic idea that gender is binary has been declining. Within the prison system, however, binary genders are still assumed. Questions surrounding the (legal) position of transgender prisoners are emerging, not only around the placement in a male or female facility, but also with regard to the treatment and treatment of this group. Although LGBTQI issues have recently received more attention socially and legally, also in a European perspective, there is a lack of insight into the size of the group of transgender prisoners, the problems they face and the human rights aspects of the treatment of this group.

Human rights aspects that are important here include the right to be safeguarded from discrimination, the right to private life and human dignity, the right to safety and the right to medical care. Social isolation and stigmatization may lie in wait. The present time demands institutions that are able to respond to developments in society. This means that the prison system is asked to respond to developments in the detention population, and new vulnerabilities that come with it.

Research questions

Relevant research questions addressed in this study are:

  1. What is the size of the group of transgender prisoners in the Netherlands?
  2. What problems do transgender prisoners face?
  3. Is the treatment of this group in line with the relevant human rights standards?
  4. What improvements are necessary and/or desirable with regard to the treatment of transgender prisoners in the light of these standards?

To answer the central questions of this project, traditional legal research methods were combined with empirical research methods. The empirical research will consist of at least 15 semi-structured interviews with, among others, prison directors, lawyers, members of supervisory committees and (former) transgender prisoners.

The empirical research comprises a total of 17 semi-structured interviews. Interviews were conducted with penitentiary professionals experienced in dealing with transgender inmates and/or assisting transgender clients. Interviews were held with five ex-prison wardens, four criminal lawyers, three members of supervisory committees of different correctional institutions, a former selection officer and a former medical advisor of the Custodial Institutions Agency (DJI). We also spoke with a policy advisor of an interest group for transgender people and with two transgender former detainees about their experiences during their time in detention.

An interview with researcher Pauline Jacobs about this study was published in NRC newspaper on 18 January 2023.