Trans Inmates

Source: Önder Abay, “Hapishanedeki Translar,” (“Trans Inmates,”) BİRGÜN, 13 January 2014,

“It is hard to find high-heels in size 42 (9.5) in prison. Even though we pay the price, the officials cannot bring them in. Here our warden understands us; but the inmates in Ankara are not even given tweezers and the others are complaining about personnel violence. What I ask of you is to send me high-heels.” (A note from Deniz’s Letter)

The law states, “The primary reason for incarceration is to rehabilitate,” which means that the state regards every inmate as unhealthy. Considering the recent arbitrary arrests, prisons can be seen as places where anyone could potentially end up. Because of rights violations and bad treatment, one can get much worse rather than becoming a rehabilitated person. Trans inmates face further unfairness and discrimination. We talked about the situation of trans people with Mustafa Eren from the Civil Society in the Penal System, who has been closely following the rights violations in prisons.

First of all, how many trans people are in how many different prisons?

According to the response to our request for information from the General Directory on 5 July 2013, there were 79 LGBT [trans women] inmates in prisons in Turkey as of 15 May 2013. These inmates are kept in 18 different prisons.

Are there any different rules and regulations for trans inmates?

There are different regulations from the start. Upon entering, if you disclose that you are LGBT, you are obliged to obtain a health report. You are sent to the hospital to get the report. We do not know what kind of an examination or report can be given based on someone’s statement. If the examination is carried out physically, this is a total violation of human rights. Suppose you proved that you are LGBT and obtain a report from the health committee; this is the beginning of the second problem in prison. Due to the physical conditions of prisons and need for security of LGBT inmates, they are virtually forced to live in isolation.

Can you tell us more about isolation?

There are 79 trans people in 18 different prisons. Most of them are in the Maltepe prison, where there are 11 trans inmates in four different cells. When I say isolation, I mean two situations. Firstly, they are not put together with other inmates. This rule means that they are not allowed to work in ateliers either. It is not certain to what extent they can use common areas. This situation isolates LGBT inmates from social life. Secondly, if an LGBT inmate is alone in the prison, it is likely that they will be kept isolated throughout their prison term because they are not allowed to stay with other inmates. According to the Ministry’s figures, in the prison where five LGBT inmates are kept, they are held in isolation.

Are there any prisons where there are more LGBT inmates?

Apart from the 11 inmates in Maltepe and 9 in Eskişehir, the other 59 inmates are in 16 different prisons. The state has a project to build a special prison for LGBT inmates but that is not the right way to solve the problem.

What is the right way according to you?

Non-governmental organizations and especially LGBT associations should be allowed to do studies in prisons. This study will not only be for LGBT inmates but will also involve prison personnel and other inmates. It should be communicated to the personnel and the other inmates that being trans is not a disease. Building a special prison and gathering all LGBTs together instead of allowing them to socialize is not the right thing to do. For example, a person whose  social environment is in Ankara would be taken to Istanbul or to another city where the prison is built; this means totally separating them from their social environment. Moreover, the prison turns into an instrument to stigmatize not only the inmates but also their visitors.

How do trans inmates meet their personal needs? Do their families support them?

Based on the letters from inmates and the conversations in prisons, most of them do not have relationships with their families. Most of them already lost contact with their families after explaining their situations; generally their friends from their pre-imprisonment social environment try to give them support. There are ateliers in prisons and the inmates are made to work for 6 or 6.5 liras [approximately 3 USD] per day; this is actually labor exploitation. That is another subject; but LGBT inmates cannot work there either; they are deprived of this opportunity and therefore do not have any income.

Is there another problem you would like to mention?

They keep on holding people in closed penal institutions with excuses about security even when they have completed most of their punishment term and have the right to be transferred to an open penal facility [where there are fewer restrictions]. This is unlawful and a violation of rights. The state violates their rights with the excuse that it cannot provide security.

What are the reasons for their imprisonment? Is there any research about this?

We have this information from the response of the Ministry of Justice. Out of 79 inmates, 22 are there due to homicide, 30 for looting, 14 for robbery, 6 for illegal drugs, 3 for sexual assault, 2 for violation of the immunity of domicile, 1 for damaging public property, and 1 for bodily harm. Considering that one-fourth of LGBT inmates are kept in prison for homicide and one-half due to crimes such as robbery and theft, the primary problems of LGBT people in our country can be summarized as the lack of security of life and deprivation from the means of making a living. LGBTs “fall into prison” because of these problems.

When it comes to trans people, are there any differences in the attitudes of judges in court houses and of wardens in prisons?

Currently 90 percent of LGBT inmates are convicts; only a small part of them are detainees. This percentage of convicts is very high when we consider the general inmate population. Considering this ratio, certain questions come into our minds such as “Is the ruling process shorter for LGBTs?” or “Are the general prejudices of society also reflected in the courts?” From the media, we know that trans inmates are raped and harassed in prison. We also know that when an inmate complained about a warden, they said, “There is no such thing; he is a religious person.”

Thank you very much for the information. Is there anything you would like to add?

In this situation, prisons turn into centers of bad treatment and sickness rather being “rehabilitative.” In order to solve the problems of LGBT inmates, NGOs should be allowed to go into the prisons and do research not only for LGBT inmates but also concerning the prison personnel and the other inmates. I think this is the first step to a solution.

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