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England's first transgender prison wing set to open for men who identify as women

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Reports of sexual assaults prompted the government to make changes to its policies for transgender inmates

Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

England's first transgender prison wing is set to open later this week.

Reports of sexual assaults in women's prisons by men prompted the government to make a change to its policies, which have allowed transgender inmates to serve time in women's prisons, the Sunday Times reported.

"Prisoner safety is our biggest concern and any decisions we take will seek to best manage the risks posed by each offender," a British Ministry of Justice spokesperson said in a statement, according to BBC News. "The wider management of transgender offenders is a highly sensitive issue which poses unique and complex challenges and we are determined to get it right. That's why we are reviewing the way we manage all transgender offenders."

Three inmates from Downview women's prison near London are expected to be the first to be housed in the new wing that's exclusively for men who now identify as women. The unit will feature 15 single cells and another cell with two beds. Transgender prisoners will be isolated from the main prison's inmates.

What are the details?

In 2016, the government issued guidance that called for the majority of transgender inmates to be held in prisons matching their preferred identity.

Last month, the government announced its revised guidance in an attempt to "strike the right balance" between the rights of transgender prisoners as well as the safety of women prisoners.

"They're going to have to have some kinds of safeguards to make sure that a Karen White event doesn't happen again," Andrea Albutt, the president of the Prison Governors Association, told the Sunday Times. "That is the No. 1 priority."

White, who was born as Stephen Wood, is a 52-year-old biological male who was sentenced to prison for raping women. He was moved from a men's prison to a women's prison after identifying as a woman.

Within days of his transfer to a women's prison, White sexually assaulted female prisoners. He was convicted last year and sentenced to life behind bars.

White has been accused of claiming to identify as a woman to get access to women in prison. His actions sparked the governments to review its transgender prisoner policy.

What else?

About 50 percent of the transgender prison population in Great Britain are sex offenders, according to the Sunday Times.

Last year, the Ministry of Justice reported that there were 139 transgender inmates in England and Wales. The data showed 15 prisons had at least one, 18 had two to four, and 11 had at least five, according to The Guardian.

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