Two transgender women in Limerick Prison are locked in their cells for up to 23 hours a day, with one of the inmates describing her isolation as “mental torture” and the other saying it was “worse than hell”.
Their plight is highlighted in a report by the Inspector of Prisons, who said the two prisoners live an “extremely isolated existence”.
In a report, the inspector said the women are largely confined to their cells under a prison rule which allows inmates to be put on a restricted regime either for their own safety or that of other prisoners.
The report said: “The Inspectorate was concerned regarding a situation on E1 landing [Limerick Women’s Prison is on E1 and E2 in Limerick Prison] in which two transgender women live an extremely isolated existence separated from the general population on E Wing.”
The report said both women were subject to Rule 63 of the Irish Prison Rules 2007, which relates to vulnerable prisoners who may be at risk from other prisoners or who might pose a risk to other inmates.
The inspectorate said women are “subsequently locked in their cells for up to 23 hours per day”.
The report said that where someone is locked up like this for more than 16 days, it is “prolonged solitary confinement” as defined under international standards.
The inspection team said solitary confinement “causes psychological harm” to people in prison.
The report said: “Both women informed the Inspection Team that their experience in isolation had adversely impacted on their mental health. One of the women informed the Inspection Team that she has limited access to the Listener’s Programme [a peer support scheme to reduce self-harm and suicide] which she described as 'beneficial but infrequent'.
The report said that due to the current construction works, prisoners on E-wing no longer have access to their own yard.
“One of the women explained she does not go outside to the yard as she is uncomfortable and alone. She also described her isolation as 'mental torture'.
The report said: "A typical day was described by one of the women as constituting the following: 'I come out, get food, make a call, that’s it, nothing. I’m locked up after one hour and that’s it'.
“She further described the regime as 'this is hell, and worse than hell actually'. She explained that she felt as though the approach to imprisonment of transgender people in the prison was 'out of sight, out of mind'."
The report said the experience of imprisonment for the women concerned did not align with the general population experience; did not comport with Yogyakarta Principle 9 [international rules] which requires that protective measures involve no greater restriction of their rights than is experienced by the general prison population.
The report said Limerick Prison has endeavoured to provide education and training to the women, along with weekly psychology sessions.
"Management informed the Inspection Team that the provision of a safe environment for the women was labour intensive," the report said.
"The women raised concerns that when searches were being conducted a male officer was present in addition to a female officer," it said, adding that a small number of prison officers referred to them as "he/him".
Keith Adams of the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice said: “The prolonged solitary confinement—periods longer than 16 days— experienced by two transgender women in Limerick Prison is at the sharpest end of this highly restrictive measure.
"When the only means of accommodating trans prisoners is through solitary confinement, we need to pause to consider the structural factors causing the restrictive practices. Prisons must have the resources to ensure that every prisoner has the maximum time out of cell available to them.”
The IPS said all prisoners were accommodated according to their legal gender.
It said new committals were subject to a risk assessment: “The Prison Governor will consider the risks posed including any risk to the prisoner themselves and any level of risk to other prisoners.
“This risk assessment will determine the regime necessary to ensure the safety of all prisoners and may include the accommodation of the prisoner on a restricted regime under Rule 63 of the Prison Rules 2007.”
The statement added: “The Irish Prison Service is currently liaising with different agencies in relation to drafting a transgender policy this will require consultations with all stakeholders.”