Transgender Inmate Says Held in Isolation Because of Gender Identity

24-year-old woman, born into an ultra-Orthodox household as a male, petitions court; Prison Service says isolation is required due to safety concerns.

Sharon Pulwer
Sharon Pulwer
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The Neveh Tirza women’s prison in Ramle.
The Neveh Tirza women’s prison in Ramle. Credit: Limor Edrey
Sharon Pulwer
Sharon Pulwer

A 24-year-old female transgender inmate at the Neveh Tirtzah women's prison filed a petition with the Lod District Court on Thursday challenging her placement in isolation wing, claiming that it is only as a result of her transgender identity.

The inmate, who was born into an ultra-Orthodox household as a male and began her gender transformation in adolescence, is serving her third jail term and is required to be in her cell in the isolation wing at night. Following a history of prostitution, she was convicted of robbery and assault of clients and sentenced to a year and a half in prison. This, her third stint in jail, began in March.

In her petition, she claims that because she is housed in a cell in the isolation wing, her contact with other prisoners is limited, she is exposed to inmates with severe psychiatric problems and must return to her cell earlier than most other prisoners.

In response to the filing of the petition, the Israel Prison Service said: "In any case in which a prisoner whose identity is not unambiguous, detention is required in isolation and that is out of concern regarding harm to the [prisoner] or prisoners in the vicinity." In the case in question, the Prison Service added, the prisoner is only isolated at night.

Two years ago, in connection with an appeal of the prisoner's conviction on a separate case for robbing a gas station, the Prison Service's policy of keeping transgender prisoners in isolation was disclosed. At the time, Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran criticized the policy, saying that its "consequences are not at all simple" and noting that constitutional principles of equality require that transgender prisoners be accorded the same conditions as other inmates to the extent possible.

The case before the Lod District Court is due to be heard December 23.

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