Prison officers are demanding that they be issued with procedural guidelines on how to deal with transgender inmates after guards were unable to search an inmate who identifies as a woman but is still physically a man. 

The Sunday Independent reported that prison officers were left in an unprecedented position when staff were asked to search a transgender inmate under suspicion of carrying a concealed weapon.

The search, about to be carried out by male prison officers from the specialist Operational Support Group (OSG), was halted when it became known that the prisoner, while biologically male, identifies as female.

A number of female prison officers were directed to search the inmate, but this couldn’t proceed as female officers are not permitted to search men, and the prisoner has not had gender reassignment surgery.

Under the Gender Recognition Act 2015, it is permissible to legally change gender in Ireland by simply signing a sworn statement. No counselling or surgery is required.

The Sunday Independent reported that “mass confusion” arose when it became clear that “no one was permitted to search this prisoner” because of a lack of guidelines on dealing with transgender inmates.

Reportedly, no one searched the prisoner, and a wand metal detector was used to scan for weapons, described by a source as “not an ideal search method by any means”.

The Law Society Gazette recently reported on a new phenomenon in Irish jails, where “male-bodied” prisoners can now be housed with women – even when said prisoners have a record of sexual assault against women.

Criminal defence lawyer Robert Purcell told the Gazette that the 2015 Gender Recognition Act has created “an impossible position” with regard to transgender prisoners.

‘Purcell believes there is, potentially, a safety issue for women inmates housed alongside a male-bodied prisoner,’ the Gazette reported.