Marjorie Harwood’s Tragic Journey: A Deep Dive into Risdon Prison’s Transgender Policies
Transgender Inmate's Controversial Incarceration in All-Male Prison Sheds Light on Systemic Issues
Marjorie Harwood, arrested in 2009 for non-violent theft offenses, found herself at the center of a deeply rooted systemic issue when she was housed in male cells at Risdon Prison, Tasmania, despite identifying as a female.
Throughout her imprisonment, Harwood recounted instances of sexual assault, consistently highlighting that she was a frequent target for abuse by fellow inmates.
In a turn of events in 2017, plagued by the traumatic experiences and in a deteriorating state of health, Harwood chose to discontinue her chronic kidney disease medication, which unfortunately led to her passing in the subsequent year.
Her family firmly attributes her death to the indirect repercussions from her tenure in a male prison facility. Newly surfaced documents solidify claims that Harwood’s gender identity was not only acknowledged but also explicitly noted, with one doctor’s 2009 report labeling her as “overtly female,” as referenced by ABC. These prison records further underscore the heightened risks she faced in an all-male environment.
Despite the measures to place Harwood in a supposedly secure unit, this did little to shield her. Reports spanning from 2014 to 2016 detail multiple injuries she endured, results of targeted attacks by fellow prisoners.
A 2017 reincarceration saw Harwood officially identified as “transgender” in the prison foundation plan. Contradictorily, Tasmania’s Prison Service (TPS) contends that this marked their initial recognition of her gender identity.
Upon her re-entry to Risdon, Harwood reported a rape incident, leading to her hospitalization for severe injuries. The period from June to September 2017 witnessed her alternating between prison inpatient care and the Royal Hobart Hospital. Despite hospital records acknowledging her rape allegations, the absence of concrete evidence meant that an official investigation was never initiated.
Post her demise, Harwood’s family, who recognized and affirmed her gender identity from her early years, championed for an official inquest. While the initial request was met with a call for supplementary data, the revelation of new insights concerning Harwood’s prison experience has reignited the family’s pursuit for justice.
Greg Barns SC, chair of the Tasmanian Prisoners Legal Service, commenting on the potential new inquest, accentuated the glaring deficiencies in Harwood’s prison treatment. An inquest, he believes, would underline systemic failures and highlight avenues for rectification and enhancement.
Currently, the TPS has affirmed that LGBTQIA+ training is mandatory for their personnel, with their transgender and gender-diverse prisoner policy undergoing a review.
In a step towards progressive reform, post-mid-2017, TPS’s transgender policy now deems it vital to promptly assess the placement of inmates self-identifying as trans.
For those impacted by the themes addressed in Harwood’s story, Rape Crisis England and Wales, as well as Rape Crisis Scotland, offer dedicated helplines and resources. US residents can also seek support from RAINN and the National Sexual Assault Hotline.