Karen White: how ‘manipulative’ transgender inmate attacked again

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Transgender politics – like any politics – can be divisive. Yet in the case of Karen White, who is legally still a man but was put in a female-only prison, both sides of the transgender rights debate are united in the belief mistakes were made.

White entered the UK prison system as transgender. However, despite dressing as a woman, the 52-year-old had not undergone any surgery and was still legally a male. She was also a convicted paedophile and on remand for grievous bodily harm, burglary, multiple rapes and other sexual offences against women.

In September last year she was transferred to New Hall prison in West Yorkshire. During a three-month period at the female prison she sexually assaulted two other inmates.

The decision to move White to a women’s prison was made public after she admitted in court to the sexual assault and to multiple rapes committed before she was sent to prison.

Those who met White were shocked that she was moved to a female prison, describing the convicted sex offender as “manipulative and controlling”, and questioned her commitment to her transition. The Ministry of Justice has since apologised for the placement.

For now, White is being held at HM Prison Leeds, a category B men’s prison, and is undergoing gender reassignment surgery.

Jenny-Anne Bishop, from the transgender rights group Transforum, said a local transgender case board made up of prison managers and psychologists decides where to place prisoners such as White within three days of a prisoner being taken into custody.

The board allows the prisoner to make representations, and considers any risks and whether the individual has been living in the gender with which they identify.

If this board’s decision is challenged, a local review board reconsiders the evidence. Finally, a “complex case board” can be set up to handle cases involving those aged 21 and under and for those at risk of causing harm to themselves or others.

It is believed the decision to place White in a women’s prison was made only at the first level – by a local case board. Bishop says the board should have taken into account all offending history but failed to do so.

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 A custody photo of transgender prisoner Karen White taken in March 2018. Photograph: West Yorkshire Police/PA

Bishop, who met White at a Transforum support group meeting in Manchester about five years ago, said: “When I met her she was at the beginning of her transition. But I felt that she was someone who didn’t listen to any advice.

“She seemed like somebody who was very much going to plough her own furrow regardless of the community advice, and she was going to demand her rights. She insisted people referred to her in her acquired gender without trying terribly hard to present as a woman.

“She would report people for a hate crime if they stumbled over which name to use for her – it was not a way to get yourself absorbed into the community. She was a person who would not compromise.”

Bishop said that over the years she had met thousands of trans people but White stood out. “I did feel she was someone not to mess with. Other members of the community said she had a very short temper. I did get the impression that she needed to go on an anger management course,” she added.

Before entering the prison system White was living in a social housing complex in the village of Mytholmroyd, West Yorkshire. Previously known as David Thompson, within a fortnight of moving in she had asked to be known as Karen White.

Residents said over a three-year period she presided over a reign of terror, physically and verbally abusing others, with some residents having to move away. All wanted to remain anonymous, for fear of reprisals.

One of the residents said White was initially “charming” but over time she became “incredibly aggressive” and residents feared for their safety. She said White was controlling and threatened to report many for hate crimes.

“We did not have a problem with her being transgender. We already had another transgender woman living here and we all got on just fine,” the woman said. “She was always calling the police accusing us of hate crimes against her. And then she started getting violent – it was a terrifying time for all of us – we wish she had never been placed here.”

The final straw came when White repeatedly stabbed an elderly male resident in his own home, claiming the pensioner had sexually assaulted her. The man said: “She just went for me – it was completely out of the blue. I still feel scared in my own home.”

The man staggered into another resident’s flat, the police were called and White was finally removed.

Born in July 1966 as Stephen Terence Wood, the former Manchester drag artist was convicted in 2001 on two charges of indecent assault and gross indecency with a child of primary school age, and jailed for 18 months.

While in prison, she changed her name to David Thompson.

White’s arrest for that stabbing and a burglary in 2017 came just as the Ministry of Justice updated its policy “on the care and management of transgender prisoners” after the death of two trans prisoners in male prisons.

The new 60-page policy introduced in January 2017 emphasised the right of prisoners to “self-identify” and to be treated “according to the gender in which they identify”. Previously, prisoners requiring such treatment would have needed a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) or to have had a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria.

Citing article 8 of the European convention on human rights, the new policy allowed those who did not have the GRC and who identified as a different gender to their biological sex to be located “in the part of the estate consistent with the gender they identify with”.

A government survey has counted 125 transgender prisoners in England and Wales, which is likely to be an underestimate. According to MoJ figures released in response to a freedom of information request by the BBC, 60 of them have been convicted of one or more sexual offences.

Frances Crook, the chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said grave mistakes were made in the White case and the safety of vulnerable women should be paramount.

Crook has previously said: “It is a very toxic debate, but I think prisons have probably been influenced by some of the extreme conversations and have been bullied into making some decisions that have harmed women.

“In my view, any man who has committed a serious sexual or violent offence against women, who then wants to transfer but has not gone through the whole process, still has a penis and still has male hormones, should not be put into a women’s prison. There may be a case for having separate provision; that is a debate to be had.”

The government is currently carrying out a consultation about reforming the Gender Recognition Act. It has stated that “we are not necessarily proposing self-declaration of gender”, but some groups opposed to the changes fear a process of self-identification could give dangerous men posing as trans women access to vulnerable women, such as those in prisons.

Whatever the case with White, it is clear the prison service is under increasing pressure in this “rapidly developing area of policy”.

But Bishop argues that cases like White’s are still rare.

“The case boards are a good way of doing things – you can’t say the system is wrong when it goes wrong once. It is almost the exception that proves the rule – you’ve just got to look at what went wrong and make sure it doesn’t happen again. No system is perfect. It’s human nature that people will sometimes get it wrong.”

https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/society/2018/oct/11/karen-white-how-manipulative-and-controlling-offender-attacked-again-transgender-prison

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