Vicky Thompson, who was just 21 was pronounced dead last week whilst an inmate at HMP Armley in Leeds.

Miss Thompson had been born male but had identified as a female since her mid-teens. Upon sentencing, her solicitor had specifically requested that she be sent to a female prison. Miss Thompson had requested to be sent to HMP New Hall near Wakefield. Her request was refused and she was sent to the male prison.

The young female, who had not yet undergone gender reassignment surgery, was known to be a vulnerable transgender person and therefore concerns were raised as to how she would have adapted and coped in a male prison setting.

Her family will undoubtedly have a number of significant concerns as to the suitability of this placement at HMP Armley and what measures were put in place to protect her and assess her risk of self harm and/or suicide which she had clearly expressed. It is suggested that Miss Thompson was finding adapting to prison life difficult as other male prisoners made comments regarding her dressing as a female.

The Care and Management of Transsexual Prisoners document provides guidelines for prison staff dealing with transgender prisoners. Prisoners are placed according to their gender as recognised by UK law; usually as stated on their birth certificate. If a person has obtained a gender recognition certificate they will have a new birth certificate in their acquired gender. If prisoners obtain this certificate while in prison they should be in most cases transferred to the estate of their acquired gender. Importantly however, the rules state that some transgender people will be “sufficiently advanced in the gender reassignment process” that they could be placed “in the estate of their acquired gender, even if the law does not yet recognise they are of their acquired gender.” Where issues arise, a case conference should be held to review the prisoner’s individual circumstances and make a recommendation.

The Prison and Probation Ombudsman will now carry out an investigation into the death of this young female. It will be interesting to see whether or not a case conference took place – it is clear there were issues that needed to be considered prior to placement at HMP Armley.

Transgender prisoners are a big issue at the moment and this case comes just one month after Tara Hudson was initially sent to an all male prison. Because Ms Hudson was legally still a male, Magistrates sent her to HMP Bristol despite living as a woman all her adult life and having undergone six years of gender reconstruction surgery. A petition was launched urging the Ministry of Justice to move Ms Hudson on the basis that the decision was in breach of her human rights and placed her in extreme danger of abuse, sexual violence and even death. Thousands of people supported the petition resulting in Ms Hudson’s move to a female prison. A spokesperson from the Prison Service said: “It is long-standing policy to place offenders according to their legally recognised gender. However, our guidelines allow room for discretion, and in such cases medical experts will review the circumstances in order to protect the emotional well-being of the person concerned.”

A recent US study said transgender women in male prisons are 13 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than in the general population, with 59 per cent reporting sexual assaults.

The National Offender Management Service (NOMS) does not keep statistics on transgender prisoners. Latest figures on the prison population in England and Wales published last week show there are 86,107 people in jail – 82,159 men and 3,948 women. Campaigners estimate that there are between 20 and 30 transgender individuals in prison at any given time.

When we think about these statistics it becomes apparent that this issue will only begin to increase as more transgender individuals pass through the criminal justice system. Policies and procedures must be put in place to ensure that the safety and well-being of these often vulnerable members of society are protected.

If you require legal representation in connection with an inquest into the death of a loved one who has died whilst in prison, we have a specialist team who can assist you. In most circumstances you will be entitled to exceptional case funding from the Legal Aid Agency and Farleys hold a franchise in this area which will allow you to secure funding. For more information or to talk to one of our specialist inquest solicitors, please contact us.