Research shows prisons need cultural shift to address LGBT+ needs
Published on 11 March 2021
English and Scottish prisons are “traumatising, rigid and frequently dangerous places” for LGBT+ inmates, a University of Dundee study has found
Research carried out by the University of Dundee and the Barrow Cadbury Trust found that LGBT+ people are disproportionately affected by violence and hate crimes and are more likely to experience high levels of emotional distress in prison. The report has called for widescale reform of prison culture in a bid to provide suitable support for LGBT+ prisoners.
The study ‘LGBT+ people in prisons: Experiences in England and Scotland’ looked at how individual attitudes and social interactions, institutional policies and structures might be shaped by discrimination and lack of understanding, and how this influences the experiences of LGBT+ people in custody.
Interviews and focus groups were conducted with over 60 management staff, prison officers and LGBT+ prisoners. The groups examined how individual attitudes and social interactions as well as institutional policies and structures in prisons might be shaped by discrimination and lack of understanding. The negative impact these factors have on the experiences of LGBT+ people in custody could not be overstated.
The report found that prison staff members are aware of the issues faced by LGBT+ people in custody, however, this is often dealt with by segregating the affected individual for their own protection. LGBT+ participants reported a lack of access to appropriate support related to being LGBT+, which led to people feeling isolated, misunderstood and mistrustful towards the justice system.
The most impactful area of the research came from examining the experiences of LGBT+ people in custody as according to the report, LGBT+ people are among those most exposed to acts of violence and discrimination.
Dr Fernando Fernandes, coordinator and co-author said, “Despite a good policy framework, our research shows that prisons are inherently traumatising, rigid and frequently dangerous places, particularly for those who identify as LGBT+, as these needs are often ignored or minimised.
“This is due to widespread lack of understanding and institutional culture that is not prepared to accommodate LGBT+ needs in their agenda and everyday practices.
“To address this issue it is necessary to develop systematic and reflexive learning approaches in which the whole system incorporates LGBT+ rights and needs into everyday practice.
“In the cases when deprivation of liberty is a last resort, prisons need to be prepared to understand equality and diversity to provide the necessary support LGBT+ people need, including their fundamental right to be themselves and not being penalized for that.”
The study concludes that changes are necessary to provide effective staff training and open institutional spaces for LGBT+ people and organisations. The research evidenced how consulting the LGBT+ community in policy restructure would be a step in the right direction to improve the LGBT+ experience within prisons and the wider criminal justice system.
The report highlights the need to build sustainable bridges with LGBT+ groups, family and friends to strengthen the network of support to available to LGBT+ people inside prison and in their return back into the community.
The study was conducted by the University of Dundee in collaboration with the Barrow Cadbury Trust. The full report is available here.
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