Trans inmates claim degrading treatment in constitutional case filed against prisons, minister

Transgender inmates have been forced to stay in the male section of Corradino Correctional Facility because they will lose their jobs’ income if they move to the female block

Transgender prisoners are being subjected to sexual harassment, and sometimes violent sexual abuse, by male prisoners as they are faced with a quandary of being unable to move into the female prisoners’ block without losing their right to an income.

Seven women in the phase of transition filed a constitutional case against the director or prisons and the home affairs minister, after they were faced with no choice but to stay inside the men’s prison block to ensure they could work and finance hormone treatment.

They claim their human rights are being breached, namely their freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and their right to respect for private and family life.

They request that they be compensated for damages, and be given the necessary remedy to stop the breach of their fundamental rights.

Most of these inmates were imprisoned before the introduction of Malta’s gender identity law in 2015, which means they were imprisoned along with male inmates because their identity cards listed their gender as male.

In 2015, three of the women – Racquela Spiteri, Frances Scerri and Michelle Falzon – exercised their right under the new law to change their gender to female; two other women, Kevin Grech and Natal Bonello are in the process of changing gender identity, while two foreign inmates, Portuguese national Reuben dos Santos Crisostomo and Panamanian Hector Antonio Montenegro Martinez cannot avail themselves of the law.

Finally in December 2015, Spteri, Scerri, Bonello and Crisostomo were given the option of moving into the female section – Falzon had by then been released from jail.

But the inmates were also denied the right to continue in the jobs they had already undertaken while imprisoned in the males’ section, which meant they would lose an income necessary to purchase hormone treatment.

“The inmates identify themselves as women, not only internally but also externally, in the way they present themselves to their family, friends, and all of society, with long hair styled in a feminine way, make-up, breast enlargement, depilation of body hair, dress style, as well as body modification with the use of breast surgery and the taking of female hormones,” lawyers Cedric Mifsud and Neil Falzon, director of human rights foundation Aditus, said.

Faced with the loss of their income, the women jointly decided against moving into the female section, against their wish to seek the more protective environment of the female section. They were joined by Grech and Falzon in the male section when the latter two were recently imprisoned.

The women and their lawyers are claiming that by being forced to stay inside the men’s section, they are being continuously exposed to insults and sexual harassment by male inmates.

“They cannot shower with the other men inside, so they have to wait until the others are ready and one inmate must stand guard for the rest, which means they don’t shower for a long period of time,” their lawyers said.

The inmates said that even in court procedures, they are prohibited by the prison authorities from wearing female clothes.

“The prison administration calls them by their male names, male warders carry out humiliating body searches on them, they cannot participate in outdoor activities on the excuse that they distract the men and attract vulgar comments, and they can only shave their heads in the male section while female inmates have a hairdresser,” their lawyers said.

The inmates have made several complaints to NGOs as well as the monitoring board of the Corradino Corrrectional Facility.

“They are being forced to experience humiliating and degrading treatment, creating high levels of anxiety for them. The prisons’ director and minister do not consider the vulnerability of these inmates as persons with specific physical and psychological needs, but instead are being formalistic about who these people are based on their ID cards.

“Instead of creating a secure and dignified environment that can contribute to their personal and social reform, the authorities have consciously and repeatedly placed these inmates in situations of high physical, sexual and psychological risk,” the lawyers said in their constitutional application.