The death of a transgender woman, allegedly raped by five men in prison, has led to the launch of a petition seeking reform of Australian corrections systems.
Ben Dudman, advocate and family friend of the late Marjorie Harwood, said Ms Harwood was jailed in 2017 for minor thefts and despite identifying as female, and being referred to using female pronouns by corrections staff, she was housed in the men's section of Risdon Prison.
Mr Dudman said Ms Harwood was jailed for stealing a block of cheese and two chicken pies from a supermarket, was allegedly raped and hospitalised. She needed a colostomy bag.
Ms Harwood feared returning to prison in 2018 so she refused treatment for a kidney condition and died.
"Tasmania has a policy to house transgender people based on their gender identity but it is no use having a policy if you don't go through with it," Mr Dudman said.
"We have launched a petition calling for better protection and treatment of transgender people in Australia's prison systems.
"We want Corrections Ministers across Australia to act."
Marjorie's mother Rosemary Harwood said the petition was about justice for transgender people.
"It is an indictment on this country that transgender people are falling through the cracks and are getting sexually and physically assaulted in prison due to inadequate protection and staff training," Mrs Harwood said.
"Currently, across Australia, transgender people are being misgendered and incorrectly housed in prison which is putting them in constant danger of sexual and physical assault.
"A transgender person must be housed according to their gender identity, otherwise people will continue to be hurt and will continue to die in our prison system."
The petition to Australia's Ministers for Corrections calls for:
- transgender people to be treated without discrimination in Australia's prison services;
- correctional staff to be provided with training relating to LGBTQIA+ people
- prison policies to be adhered to which allow transgender people to be housed according to their gender identity.
Mrs Harwood said she wanted to protect other transgender people.
"Transgender prisoners deserve to serve their sentences safe from abuse and assault," she said.
"It is time for change so no one has to go through what Marjorie faced."
A Tasmanian Department of Justice spokesperson said correctional officers received training on diversity as part of their intensive 10-week training program to ensure they developed an understanding of the needs of LGBTI prisoners so they can respond to their needs.
"The Tasmania Prison Service has a comprehensive policy for transgender, transsexual and intersex prisoners which prioritises safety, and treats prisoners with dignity and respect," he said.
"Upon entry into custody, prisoners are able to self-identify as transgender, transsexual or intersex.
"Provided that the safety and security of the prison is not compromised, transgender, transsexual and intersex prisoners have the right to be housed in a correctional facility appropriate to their gender identification."
Prison Legal Service chair Greg Barns SC supported the petition.
"Australia's prison system is not well equipped to deal with sexual diversity," Mr Barns said.
"The issue is that to meet the needs of transgender people requires more thought and care.
"This case is illustrative of the fact we've got a long way to go with respect to transgender people."