Criminal Justice Report
This is one of three Community Engagement reports from the TRANSforming Futures partnership. Drawing on a survey, workshops and contributions from legal and community experts, the research details trans participant’s experiences of problems in the criminal justice system and highlights participants’ proposed solutions to some of these problems. This is qualitative research led by, and focused on, a diverse range of trans people in England.
The proposals and solutions included here are not policy recommendations, and they do not represent the view of any one organisation or individual. We have foregrounded a range of suggestions from trans people themselves, to spark further discussion and future action. Suggestions herein may also go on to become funded projects with TRANSforming partners.
This report is the starting point of a conversation. As well as exploring trans people’s experiences of criminal justice, this project provided crucial time and space for trans communities to discuss the problems they face. Even more importantly, participants were asked to imagine their own solutions – large and small – to these problems. This in itself is an act of healing and reclaiming power.
Issues in Criminal Justice for Trans People
Lack of knowledge about rights
Participants reported being unsure of their rights, making it difficult to navigate the criminal justice system.
People were uncertain about whether their experiences amounted to hate crimes, and whether trans people – and non-binary people specifically – were protected by the law from hate crime.
Legal experts highlighted that trans people in police custody were not sure whether they should disclose their trans identity, and whether they could request their pronouns or name be used by the police.
Experts highlighted problems with how courts handle cases involving trans people. These included hostile media coverage of court cases involving trans people, and perceptions that CPS guidelines for prosecuting hate crimes did not favour prosecutions.
Discomfort and uncertainty about reporting violence, discrimination and abuse
Participants and experts expressed a lack of confidence in reporting hate crime, discrimination and abuse because they fear they would not be believed or supported. This was especially stark for Black trans people and trans people of colour, who feared racism as well as transphobia.
Some people worried in particular about the support that would be available if they did report a crime. These included the lack of trans-inclusive domestic violence services, with participants reporting that these services focused on their gender identity rather than their experience of abuse.
Criminalisation of trans people
Participants highlighted that trans people experiencing homelessness, and Black trans people and trans people of colour are more likely to be criminalised (i.e. treated as a suspect and/or accused or convicted of a crime), particularly through racist practices in policing.
Legal experts highlighted instances of trans men and transmasculine people being prosecuted in the context of intimate relationships, saying they are disproportionately likely to have charges pressed against them and receive disproportionate sentences.
Participants who had experiences of arrest cited confrontational experiences, misgendering and unnecessary physical force. Most of these experiences followed instances in which the trans person had been a target of harassment themselves.
Perception and experience of the police
Participants highlighted fear and distrust of the police as a key failure in the justice system. This was said to be a result of unaddressed histories of violence against trans people and ongoing poor interactions and harassment, which lead to a high level of anxiety. Trans people of colour and survivors of domestic violence were particularly likely to express a lack of trust.
Transphobia within policing cultures was flagged as a major issue. Participants highlighted that police generally lacked knowledge about trans people, but there were also many examples of derogatory language about trans people being heard. Those who had complained about mistreatment by police found that their reports were not followed up internally.
Trans people in the prison system
Incarceration was perceived as a particularly dangerous and harmful experience for trans people. Workshop participants who had spent time in prison spoke of their experiences of binary gender segregation, misgendering and mistreatment by prison employees. This was particularly highlighted by trans people of colour. All trans participants who had experienced prison cited isolation and a lack of networks.
Ideas for improving criminal justice institutions
After identifying problems that trans people experience in the criminal justice system, workshop participants were asked to generate ideas they thought would help alleviate these problems. Their ideas were as wide-ranging as the perspectives and experiences of the group. Ideas included:
Improving outcomes in the current criminal justice system
Run skill-sharing workshops and survival education for trans communities
Create and distribute resource packs for incarcerated trans people
Train and employ trans criminal justice advocates
Support trans people through and after reporting
Changing the criminal justice system
Formal training to improve interactions with police
Train and employ mandatory trans liaison officers and improve outreach to trans communities
Make it easier and safer to report violence, abuse and discrimination, through online reporting, third-party reporting and removing time requirements for reporting a hate crime
Pursuing alternatives to criminal justice
Create non-punitive pathways for hate crime offenders, such as compulsory education courses and mediation
Decriminalise sex work