Trans prisoners in Scotland to be first sent to jails matching their birth gender

Previous inclusive policy on initial assignments reversed after furore over rapist sent to female prison

All transgender offenders entering the Scottish prison system will first be sent to jails that match their birth gender, in a reversal of the Scottish Prison Service’s (SPS) previous inclusive policy.

The announcement came in an urgent review into the handling of the case of Isla Bryson, a transgender double rapist who was initially sent to a female prison, resulting in a public outcry.

While it does not appear to be a blanket ban on trans prisoners ever being accommodated in prisons that match their acquired gender, the new protocol supersedes previous guidelines, developed with the Scottish Trans Alliance. These stated that any transgender person taken into custody should be held in a prison that matches the gender they were living in within the community, pending a full risk assessment.

After the Bryson case, the SPS announced a full case review for every transgender person currently in prison custody will be completed.

The SPS has already stated that, until those reviews are complete, any transgender person currently in custody and who has any history of violence against women – including sexual offences – will not be relocated from the male to the female estate.

The Scottish government made only a summary of the Bryson review available on Thursday, just as the Holyrood parliament went into recess.

The conclusions, summarised in a letter from the chief executive of the SPS, Teresa Medhurst, stated that no women were put at risk of harm by Bryson’s placement.

The review found Bryson was kept segregated at all times during their stay at Cornton Vale, Scotland’s only all-women prison, immediately after being convicted of two rapes while known as Adam Graham.

The report was dismissed as a “whitewash [that] tells us nothing of any substance” by the Scottish Conservatives.

Medhurst said it was not necessary to share the entire report because of the “significant amount of personal detail” it included.

The justice secretary, Keith Brown, told MSPs the day after Bryson’s case emerged that he trusted the SPS to decide. The Scottish government was then accused of a “screeching U-turn” the next day when Bryson was moved to the male estate after an apparent intervention from the first minister, who said it was “not possible to have a rapist in a female prison”.

Medhurst said that all decisions made about Bryson were in keeping with existing SPS policies.

Responding to Medhurts’s bullet points, the Scottish Conservative’s shadow community safety minister, Russell Findlay MSP, said: “We still have no idea why a double rapist was sent into a women’s prison or what involvement SNP ministers had in his removal following the public backlash. Given the widespread concern and anger, this report should have been published and in full, not just some woolly summary.”

Medhurst confirmed that Bryson’s warrant from the court said they should be taken to Barlinnie, a male prison.

Then, “as further information gathering was ongoing, it was decided by SPS that the individual should be diverted to Cornton Vale in alignment with current policy”.

This policy, which has been in place since 2014 and is now under separate review, did not give an automatic right for trans prisoners to be accommodated according to their acquired gender, with decisions made on a case-by-case basis subject to risk assessments.

While at Cornton Vale, Bryson was separate from the general prison population, and “at no time did the individual come into contact with any other prisoners at the establishment”. 

Medhurst writes that a transgender case conference was held on Wednesday 25 January, which concluded that further information was required for risk assessment. The following morning “an operational decision was taken by SPS Senior Management due to the level of risk and remaining uncertainties in the case, to move the individual to the male estate”, where it was decided again to hold Bryson in segregation.

The SPS has accepted the review’s four recommendations, which include better communication when transferring transgender individuals from court to custody, and for the wider policy review to consider improvements to admission, placement and management.

Brown welcomed the findings, adding: “It is important that consideration of issues relating to the management of prisoners is measured and does not retraumatise victims or risk unintended consequences for transgender people or individuals in the care of SPS.”


Libby Brooks

The GuardianTramp

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