Australia: Petition for a public enquiry into the prison death of Veronica Baxter

April 20, 2010

According to Green Left Weekly in Australia, Veronica Baxter was found dead on March 16 last year in her cell in a maximum security cis men’s jail. It was one of the several deaths in custody of indigenous people (six so far this year), discussed at a recent public meeting organised by the Indigenous Social Justice Association (ISJA):

People attending the forum heard about the unsatisfactory judicial results in the cases of the TJ Hickey, who died after being chased by police in Redfern, and Mulrunji, who died in police custody on Palm Island. Both died in 2004. The cases of Mr Ward and Terry Griffiths, Aboriginal men who also died in police custody, were discussed.

The case of Veronica Baxter, a transgender Aboriginal woman died in a male jail after been arrested at Mardi Gras in 2009, was discussed in detail. Ray Jackson, ISJA spokesperson, said: “Within a matter of days, Veronica Baxter was found dead in her cell.” [Via]

Ms Baxter had been detained in a cis men’s jail against NSW government policy, which states that transgender people must be placed in the jail of their choosing. As Ray Jackson, president of the ISJA and elder of the Wiradguri nation explained:

“If trans people are post-operative transgender women, they are considered real women, and are placed within the women’s jail. If they are pre-operative transgender women, they are considered ‘male’ and are normally processed in a male jail.”

Whilst his comment contains a lot of problematic phrasing, it does at least illustrate the point that transgender people face a disproportionate amount of abuse, rape, and murder in jail. The NSW government’s policy of so-called protective segregation was developed in response to this fact.

“After processing in the male jail, pre-operative transgender women are then given an opportunity to go to a women’s jail, but have to stay in solitary confinement because they are still considered ‘male’”, Jackson told Green Left Weekly.

“Pre-operative transgender women won’t be in solitary confinement in a male jail, but they will suffer more harassment, assault and abuse.” [Via]

No matter what good intentions may be behind the policy, it still discriminates against poor trans people because of the financial differential between surgery costs for trans men compared to the cost of surgery for trans women. More to the point, no matter what good intentions may be behind the policy, Ms Baxter died inside a week following her detention in a prison inappropriate for a woman.

At the time of writing there has still not been a coroner’s enquiry, despite a statement in October 2009 that there would be a full investigation. The queer rights activist group, Community Action Against Homophobia is demanding action and has launched a petition for a public enquiry – here’s the link.

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