Israel Refused Transgender Prisoner's Request to Transfer to Women's Jail, Citing 'Masculine Appearance'

The woman was held for 10 days in isolation in a men's prison, despite a medical opinion stating she should be treated as a woman

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Nitzan Prison in Ramle in central Israel.
Nitzan Prison in Ramle in central Israel.Credit: Ilan Assayag

The prison service refused to transfer a transgender female prisoner from a men’s jail to the Neveh Tirtza women’s prison, citing her “masculine appearance” despite a doctor's opinion stating she should be treated as a woman who only stopped hormone treatment due to an allergic reaction.

After Haaretz asked the prison service about her case and she appealed to the Supreme Court, the service transferred her Thursday to Neveh Tirtza from Nitzan Prison, a men’s jail. At Nitzan, she had spent 10 days in isolation, in violation of regulations.

L. and accomplices allegedly tried to extort money from ultra-Orthodox men who had sex with prostitutes in Tel Aviv. She was arrested on March 22 and denies the charges.

L. has received testosterone blockers and estrogen, but was forced to suspend treatment with one hormone because of a suspicion of an allergic reaction. “I am asking to treat her as a woman,” her doctor wrote.

According to prison service regulations, for the first five days of detention, transgender prisoners sleep in isolation for their safety. After that, the service decides on where the prisoner will be jailed on a more permanent basis.

The prison service’s policy is for transgender female prisoners to be considered on an individual basis, which includes “their appearance and the way the prisoner identifies themselves given the stage of gender identity assignment – and with the necessary and appropriate sensitivity.”

If the gender reassignment process has been completed, the regulations require that the prisoner’s new gender be followed. Either way, the rules forbid holding prisoners in isolation on a regular basis because of their gender identity.

The Neveh Tirtza women's prison, also in Ramle.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

L.’s first five days were actually at Neveh Tirtza, the women’s prison; she was then interviewed by medical officials at the prison. The prison service said it made an “informed decision” to transfer her to Nitzan, which it did on March 29 and kept her in isolation.

A lawyer provided by the Public Defender’s Office discovered this two days later at a hearing at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court on extending her detention. He asked the judge to transfer L. back to Neveh Tirtza; the judge agreed.

A prison service legal adviser, Michael Avitan, asked the court to reconsider, saying the authorities believed that moving L. to Neveh Tirtza was “not appropriate for his needs.” Avitan said it “wasn’t possible to hold him in the wing for women prisoners.” The only possibility was to keep L. in isolation for safety reasons, Avitan said.

He said the magistrate’s court did not have the authority to decide how Israel's jails should hold its prisoners. After two days of procedural delays, L.’s lawyer appealed to the Supreme Court. At this point, the prison service decided to let L. remain in a women’s prison, officialy transferring her.

L.’s lawyers said they found it strange that in 2021 the prison service was still following a policy in which transgender people were not entitled to appropriate prison conditions. They said that at the men’s prison, she was repeatedly harassed by other prisoners because of her gender identity, and thus received discriminatory treatment from the prison service.

“We regret that the decision on her transfer was made only after legal steps were taken – all the way to the Supreme Court – and the media’s intervention,” her public defenders said in a statement.

The prison service said that after an assessment by relevant professionals, it decided to keep L. in Nitzan Prison, a decision approved by the magistrate’s court. After the medical evaluation period, as required during the coronavirus period, and before L.’s future placement was decided on, the professional met again and decided on Neveh Tirtza, the women’s prison.

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