A ground-breaking study has found evidence of “harassment and bullying” of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) inmates in Irish prisons.
The affected inmates reportedly keep their “mouth shut and head down” to survive in prison and fear attack if their sexual orientation is known.
The abuse, including threats of physical violence, has placed some of these inmates at risk of self-harm and suicidal tendencies.
The research, the first of its kind in Ireland, said the risks were greatest for transgender prisoners, many of whom cannot hide their identity.
It said the response of authorities to complaints from prisoners varied “widely”, with one inmate reporting a “sustained period” of further abuse after the authorities failed to act.
The report said there was some evidence prison bosses use protective segregation, involving long periods of being locked in a cell as a response to the safety needs of transgender prisoners.
The report was commissioned by the Irish Penal Reform Trust and conducted by Nicola Carr, Siobhán McAlister, and Tanya Serisier of Queen’s University Belfast.
“We found evidence of harassment and bullying of LGBT prisoners in an Irish context, particularly in male prisons,” the report said.
Speaking at the launch, Dr Carr said the research was a small-scale “exploratory” study and there was still “no prevalence estimate” on the LGBT community in Irish prisons.
She said international research suggested incarceration rates were at least comparable to the general population.
She said research documented a “hyper-masculinity” in prisons, often maintained through violence. She said this culture, with its stigmatisation of LGBT, was “referenced” by prisoners in the research study.
One inmate said LGBT people had to “keep your mouth shut and your head down”, while another said “being gay in prison is seen as a weakness and people prey [on] that weakness”.
Dr Carr said female prisoners indicated less stigmatisation, but there was still an “undercurrent”.
The research cited reports from oversight bodies and legal cases which provided some indication that sexual assaults occur within Irish prisons, including one case of the rape of a gay prisoner.
One unnamed criminal justice source had told researchers he suspected prison rape was “a very under-recorded problem”.
One inmate added: “Just because you don’t necessarily hear about it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t go on. I mean I am aware of people who were tied up and raped.”
The research recommended the Irish Prison Service (IPS) develop a comprehensive plan which would ensure that the needs of LGBT prisoners are “explicitly considered and addressed”.
Both the researchers and Irish Penal Reform Trust executive director Deirdre Malone praised the openness of the IPS towards the study and the issue.
Fergus Black, IPS director of care, said the issue posed “a challenge” but, with the fall in prison numbers, the service was better prepared to respond.
“When I was in prison, in relation to LGBT, if you were openly gay or you were camp or it was suspected that you were gay, you were avoided and your place was to keep your mouth shut and your head down.”
Rachel, trans woman
“Being gay in prison is seen as a weakness, and people prey [on] that weakness, because it singles somebody out. And that makes them a target for verbal abuse and physical abuse and emotional abuse and psychological abuse, the whole lot, right.”
Brendan“Oh, you make a choice not to [be out], to avoid hassle.”
Patrick, gay man
“I don’t think there is anything there for gay people because they don’t know who is gay. they don’t like, they need someone like, if, If another 30 people stands up and says ‘yeah we are gay and bisexual’, and they talk about it, well then you will have to bring in issues there to protect them, but because that’s not there, there is no protection.”
Damien, bisexual man
“I put up with two years of horrific abuse while I was locked in my cell. This guy, he was outside during the day, all day, and while I was locked in my cell every day he was outside my door, [saying] “you dirty steamer, you filthy faggot’.”
“I’d be down playing snooker and people would be like, do you like playing with balls? But like an awful lot of shit you come against.”
“My experience of homophobic harassment and the response of management and staff has been deeply traumatising, dehumanising and degrading.”
“[There’s] a lot of name calling. In the last week or two there is one particular prisoner who...called me the most horrendous names. And it’s constant.”
CJ07, prison officer
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