Why should feminists be concerned about transwomen in female jails and prisons? A look at the numbers.

This article aims to look at numbers for incarceration, and find a conclusion on whether including trans people in the prison of their choice would make a statistically significant difference to the situation in those prisons or jails. I am using the USA and UK for this, as these are English-speaking countries from which a lot of statistics are available online. It is thus easier to compile numbers that readers of this blog can verify.


In the USA

0.6% of U.S. adults identify as transgender. For teens, estimates vary from just under 3% to one in 137, which at 0.7% is a lot closer to the 0.6% adult percentage.

For every 100 000 women in the USA, 126 are in prison. For men, the number is 1352. This means more or less 1 in 12 prisoners is a woman.

The average person in the USA has a 5% chance of being incarcerated at some stage. Transwomen have a 21% chance and transmen 10%. Please do not conclude, from this, that trans people are necessarily more criminal. Several factors may contribute to this, and the source I link to mention some of them. The source also contains plenty of reasons to care about trans safety, especially in prison.

If 5% of Americans go to prison/ jail at some stage, and about 1 in 12 (1 in 11.73) of them are women, it means that from 100 000 people, half male and half female, 5 000 will land up in prison – more or less 426 women and 4574 men.

If 0.6 % of the 100 000 are trans it means there are about 300 transwomen and 300 transmen. If 21% of the former spend time in prison or jail, it is 63 trans-identified males (TIMs). 10% of the latter is 30 trans-identified females (TIFs).

If those 63 Trans identified males are sent to female prisons, it means that just over 87% women (426) will share spaces where they could not get away with just under 13% (63) men. For every 7 women, there will be one TIM in their jail. (Trans-identified females tend not to ask to be sent to male prisons.(1) If they did, 30 women would move the numbers from 426:63 to 396:63, and the percentages to 76% women and 24% TIMs. )

If trans-ness is under-represented in adults because of an unwillingness to “come out” and 3% is closer to the reality, it could soon, as the next generation grow up, be numbers like 426 female prisoners incarcerated with 315 trans-identified males. If you then send the 150 (10% going to prison of 3% of the 5 000 women) trans-identified women to male prisons, it becomes 276 females with 315 TIMs.

This is based on the assumption that not one man who is not transgender would lie about it because he finds a women’s prison preferable. If men would do that, the percentage of males in female prisons could become even higher.

In England and Wales

In England and Wales, women make up under 5% of the prison population. As of 2018, most were serving time for non-violent offenses. Men are 22 times as likely as women to be imprisoned.

“One in 50 male offenders in prisons are self-identifying as transgender, according to a survey by the official jail watchdog…The figure, the first by the watchdog, suggests there are up to 1,500 transgender inmates among the 90,000 prisoners in England and Wales, more than ten times previous estimates, and at least four times the number in the general population.”

If men are 22 times as likely to be imprisoned, it means for every 1 000 prisoners, 956 will be men and 44 women. If 2% of these men identify as transgender, these are 19 trans-identified men who would prefer to be housed with the 44 women.

If trans identified males are sent to female prisons, it means that just under 70% women will share spaces where they could not get away with just over 30% men. For every 7 women, there will be 3 TIMs in their jail.

Sex criminals in women’s prisons

In the UK, just under 20% of male and 3% of female inmates were there for sexual offenses.

One UK report counted 125 prisoners in the UK that was statistically listed as transgender, with 60 of them convicted sex offenders. This number for declared trans prisoners is evidentially based on incomplete reporting. Not all trans prisoners declare it, and those who do are more likely to be long-term prisoners. Long-term prisoners, on average, committed more serious crimes. This linked source admits this: “The prison service is not recording data on transgender prisoners systematically.” Also, the survey I linked earlier in this article showed two percent of male offenders identifying as transgender – which would be closer to 1600 prisoners.

Extrapolating that trans-identified men commit more sex crimes than “cis” men do is going too far. But it seems that they commit more such crimes than women do.

For the lack of good data, I will assume that TIM inmates have the same percentage of sex criminals among them as other men. This assumption may well be wrong, but it is a start.

For each thousand inmates in UK female prisons, assuming 30.2% transwomen and 69.8% “cis” women, there will be 698 women and and 302 TIMs among the thousand. With 3% percent of women and 20% of men in jail for sex crimes, the women will include 21 convicted sex offenders and the TIMs 60. This would almost quadruple sex offenders in female prisons.

My conclusion:

Putting trans-identified males in prison with women would, numerically, make a large difference in the make-up of women’s prisons.

The Yogyakarta principles state:

“Ensure that placement in detention avoids further marginalizing persons on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity or subjecting them to risk of violence, ill-treatment or physical, mental or sexual abuse.”

The goal in this is laudable. Yet, in practice this point alone gives two contradictory guidelines. If you create a prison or prison wing specially for gay prisoners, do you further marginalize them, or do you protect them from violence from other prisoners?
It is not always easy to know what should be done, but authorities usually try to do what is within their abilities. They divide prisoners by sex and by security levels. Sometimes, they are even divided by the gang from which they have tattoos. (Ten members of the same gang together is likely to commit less violence to one another than 5 from gang A, 4 from gang B, and one non-gangster.) I believe more should certainly be done to ensure the safety of physically weak men, gay men, men who are not members of gangs, transgender males, etc. against other male prisoners. I admit to not exactly knowing what it is that should be done.

However, of this I am sure: Women are not an acceptable sacrifice to help men. The Yogyakarta principles may not mention male and female in this point, but putting women in prison with males certainly subjects them to violence, ill-treatment and physical and sexual abuse. Maybe separate wings for gay and trans males are needed to protect them, without putting women at risk from them. However, transwoman Debbie Hayton argue that, assuming she commits a crime, she may prefer a male prison to a trans prison (wing).

The ideal solution for housing a minority group of criminals which could be at risk in male prisons and could pose a risk in female ones may not be clear. However, the solution should always regard female safety.


(1) I can find no records which mention any trans-identified females who try to go to male prisons, even if you try to find it. I can only find this: There were 129 transgender prisoners in men’s prisons … When asked about the gender with which the prisoner identified, 119 identified as female, 0 as male and 10 did not provide a response. Not one trans prisoner in male prisons seems to be a transman. (The low amount of trans prisoners mentioned in this source are prisoners who declared to case workers they are trans, so that their trans-ness appear on file somewhere. This is almost certainly not all the transgender prisoners.)


About Retha Faurie

Attempting to question everything, reject the bad and hold fast to the good.
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