Transgender Prisoners in Thailand Keep Growing

                                                                                                                                              Nathee Chitsawang


        The number of transgender inmates inside Thai prisons has been increasing dramatically, rising from 1,600 in the past ten years to 4,110 in 2016. The transgender behind bars includesvarious types: effeminate gay or ‘Kathoey’ in Thai; and butch or ‘Tomboy’.According to the statistics, behind Thai prison walls, there are about 2,471 effeminate homosexuals. Among these, 71 of them have already had their sexual reassignment surgeries. Overall, it could be said that the transgender inmates in Thailand are imprisoned together with general prison population in almost all prisons across the country.To provide them with proper custody and treatment, the prison authority has to understand their differences in gender identity and all unique characteristics which can affect the separation of settings, custody, training and social welfare as well. Therefore, the continuous rise in the number of transgender population behind bars has posed a major challenge to the Thai prisons of the fact that they have to find the appropriate treatment of this increasing group of inmates apart from the attempt to deal with the prison overcrowding which remains unsolved and has become a severe crisis for prison system in Thailand for More than a decade ago.


        To send an offender to prison, Thailand’s Department of Corrections has to firstly consider his or her birth-assigned gender before allocating that person to either male prison or women’s correctional institution. In fact, the offender’s gender identity is usually indicated in the court’s judgment and legal documents before entering prison system. Once a male offender is sent to prison, he shall be called as ‘male prisoner’ or ‘male convict’ depending on his case whether it is sentenced or not, while a female offender shall be sent to serve time in the women’s prison unit or women’s correctional institution.


       As for the transgender inmates, particularly those effeminate male homosexual prisoners whose status is still legally described as ‘male’, they are normally housed in the facility in line with their legal gender identity which is the men’s prison but in a separate unit. In some cases where there is no enough space behind bars, the prison authority might allocate them to be in a specific dormitory or sleeping place, different from where other male inmates live.


         Considering those already having their sex reassignment surgeries, they have to be examined by a nurse or medical staff before gaining permission to be housed in the women’s prison unit. In connection with this policy, Thailand’s Department of Corrections is still drafting the official rules which will be applied soon. Moreover, to tackle with the increasing number of transgender prisoners which shows a similar trend for a rise in transgender population in the wider Thai society, it is expected that the transgender unit will be formed in Thai prisons to separate the custody and treatment of transgender inmates. On top of that, if the total number of this group of prisoners keeps expanding dramatically, the transgender prison or a special correctional facility is likely to be established to specifically house the transgender offenders in Thailand.


      Uthaithani Provincial Prison has become the model of prison in providing the appropriate custody and treatment to the special group of sensitive prisoners, such as the treatment of women prisoners in line with the Bangkok Rules, the treatment of elderly inmates and prisoners committing sexual offences, as well as the treatment of transgender prisoners. Regarding this, Uthaithani Provincial Prison has set the special programs for those 13 obviously identified as transgender inmates. Considering the effeminate homosexuals, they are provided with rehabilitation program in order to return them as a decent citizen of community, starting from the initial classification according to their offences to the treatment schemes in terms of both mental development and adjustment to life behind bars.


       Besides, they are all equipped with psychological strength to live in hope and inspiration and to acknowledge their personal values before being transferred to participate in specific treatment programs, i.e. cooking, Thai massage, hairdressing, dressmaking and Sakkasa-Samathi or meditation under the teachings of PhraDhammongkolyarn. In addition, when their sentences are nearly completed, they shall be provided with the pre-release program which firmly links with ‘Library of Changing Lives’, a new project established by Uthaithani Provincial Prison.


        It is worth mentioning that most transgender prisoners have sensitivity over their mental state and tend to become very emotional. Sometimes, they found it difficult to control their bad temper. Interestingly, although they realize that they have distinctive behaviors and ideas, different from other normal male inmates, they are still likely to request to be detained in men’s prison unit, not

in the units for housing female or transgender inmates as they believe that they and other male prisoners can live together behind bars peacefully. On top of that, there is no any strong feeling of dislike or hate for transgender prisoners inside men’s prisons. At present it remains very controversial for the prison authority whether the transgender prisoners should be specially segregated or not. On the one hand, it may be too soon to separate them from other male and female inmates since their total number is still limited. On the other hand, the segregation might be indispensable once the number of transgender inmates continues significantly expanding and poses more severe problems for the prison management. However, if the transgender population behind bars still keeps growing, sooner or later the changing trend in terms of segregation of transgender prisoners will be unsurprisingly emerged.