Release of transgender prisoner sought

A lawyer representing transgender prisoner Glen Cooper will apply to the Parole Board to have have her released next April.

Cooper was sentenced to two years and one month jail after pleading guilty to wounding with intent to injure on January 17 when she struck a man on the head with a wine bottle.

Judge Duncan Harvey said in recognition of the difficulties Cooper would face in a men's prison he reduced the sentence by 15 per cent. Another 15 per cent reduction was given for an early guilty plea.

Lawyer Kelly Ellis had asked for a home detention sentence but when it came to sentencing in the Whangarei District Court on Wednesday no suitable address had been supplied to the court.

Ms Ellis said when Cooper became eligible for parole in April 2013, as she had already been in custody waiting for sentence since the beginning June, an application for release would be made.

Cooper was in the high risk unit in prison but would then progress to segregation, Ms Ellis said. She did not consider that suitable.

"Segregation isn't safe and while Corrections might say that it is, I work on the basis of what my clients tell me."

A Corrections Department spokesperson would not comment on Cooper's case specifically but said the placement of transgender prisoners was done on a case-by-case basis.

Transgender prisoners were entitled to choose to be in a single cell or to share a cell with other transgender prisoners.

They were permitted normal mixing with other prisoners, but could also request to be segregated.

The spokesperson said transgender prisoners would be moved to a female prison if they had full sexual realignment surgery, as there could be risks in placing anatomically male transgender prisoners in a female prison.

However, Corrections agreed with the Ombudsman to review whether the policy on the location of transgender prisoners was appropriate to provide for their safety, care and rehabilitation.

Legislation provides any prisoner who wanted to access medical treatment that was not provided by Corrections or not recommended by the health service could access treatment as long as they were prepared to pay the cost.

The Green Party said the Government had several options to ensure the safety of transgender prisoners.

"Having judges hand out reductions in sentences is not an effective or sustainable solution," Green Party spokeswoman on rainbow issues Jan Logie said.

"For the State to knowingly put any person in its care into danger is inexcusable. There are solutions available and we need to make changes to keep transpeople safe from violence in New Zealand, including when they are in the State's custody."

- Kristin Edge of The Northern Advocate

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