A trans woman who was awaiting trial for attempted murder has been found dead in an all-male prison.
Jenny Swift, 49, from Seaforth on Merseyside, was found dead in her cell at HMP Doncaster on 30 December, but the news of her death was only confirmed by the Ministry of Justice on Thursday.
Swift was on remand after being charged – under her birth name, Jonathan Swift – with stabbing a man at a house in Doncaster on 15 November last year.
Swift's alleged victim, Eric Flanagan, 26, died from multiple stab wounds. Police were consulting with prosecutors on whether to upgrade the charge to murder but this decision had not been taken by the time of Swift's death.
Swift was one of 70 transgender prisoners across 33 prisons in the UK. And while it was previous government policy to place trans prisoners according to their gender as recognised by law, new guidelines that came into force on 1 January give them the right to state their preference.
The policy, drafted after a review in November last year, says "all transgender prisoners (irrespective of prison location) must be allowed to express the gender with which they identify".
While they must provide evidence that they have been living contrary to their legally recognised gender, they can request to have their case heard by a prison service transgender case board.
The government has acknowledged that the treatment of trans prisoners "had not kept pace with wider social views".
A spokesperson for the prison service said: “HMP Doncaster prisoner Jenny Swift was found unresponsive in her cell at 00.40am on Friday December 30. Prison staff and paramedics attempted CPR but she was pronounced dead at 1.10am.
"As with all deaths in custody, there will be an independent investigation by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman.”
Two transgender women prisoners died in all-male jails in late 2015: Joanne Latham, 38, who died at Woodhill prison in Milton Keynes, and VIcky Thompson, 21, who died at HMP Leeds, also known as Armley.
According to the campaign group Inquest, a record 342 prisoners died in jails in England and Wales in 2016, with at least 111 of the deaths self-inflicted (some are awaiting classification). The overall figure in 2015 was 256.
Despite Swift's death, the investigation into Flanagan's murder continues. Detective Chief Inspector Vicky Short, of South Yorkshire police, said: "On Friday 30 December, we were made aware that the person charged in this investigation had died. However, the inquiry into Mr Flanagan’s death remains ongoing at this time and his family continue to be supported by officers."
Patrick Smith is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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