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Tuesday 11 April 2017

Lawyer: "Prison is a living nightmare for trans women"

Posted in: Features, Features
By Jacqui Stanford - 8th July 2013

Lawyer Kelly "K1" Ellis is spearheading the movement for transgender women to no longer be placed in custody with men, where they are being raped and assaulted. We get a little more insight into Ellis' work and her thoughts on the current system.

Ellis says maintaining professional distance is important in any job, but it is very, very hard when dealing with trans prisoners.

“The people I deal with are almost universally broken. They don't have homes, their families offer little support and alcoholism and drug addiction are rife. The system victimises them in a totally disproportionate way.”

Ellis, a member of the group TransAdvocates, represents Tanya*, who went, briefly, into custody in relation to a charge she wasn't going to get jailed for, and was raped by a gang member.

Read Tanya’s story here

“How much damage was done in the few minutes she was left alone with a gangster is immeasurable,” Ellis says.

“Witnessing the aftermath, taking the narratives and presenting the submissions isn't easy, a weeping advocate isn't a good look. I save my tears for the drive home. I have a big box of tissues in the car and a counsellor who I can go a ‘debrief’ with as needed.”

The good news is judges are already listening: Ellis says transgender prisoners are getting shorter jail terms, as a properly conducted plea in mitigation will result in a discounted sentence to reflect the difficulties they face.

“But as Tanya's case showed, a ten or 15 per cent reduction in a jail term makes little difference when sexual assaults are often over in minutes,” Ellis points out.

“Prison is a place where some inmates are able to take advantage of programmes and make real efforts to rehabilitate.

“For trans women, it's a time of constant fear, often unbearable loneliness and, of course, the inevitability of sexual assault.

“Prison is a living nightmare for trans women in a way which is very different from the experiences of most other prisoners. As a lawyer who's been doing criminal law for more than 20 years, I feel qualified to make this statement.”

The issue is being reviewed. Corrections Minister Anne Tolley says it’s complex, but it is being looked into.

Ellis says this is a significant advance from Tolley, who has previously indicated there was no issue at all. “Obviously she's coming to grips with it, but the solutions are really quite simple and, putting aside the personal cost to victims, would save the taxpayer a fortune as well.

“I think as the Minister becomes better educated about trans issues she might realise that simple, decisive steps are required and the rest is just detail.”

Ellis says there is no doubt any change will be far too late for the likes of Tanya. “Her story is similar to that of many others. With good support, perhaps the trauma might fade in time, but good support is something trans prisoners don't get either inside or when they're paroled. However, we need to look forward and prevent this kind of thing happening in the future.”

Jacqui Stanford - 8th July 2013

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