Scotland says transgender prisoners with violent pasts will not go to women’s jails

Justice secretary pauses transfer of all transgender prisoners after outrage about rapist Isla Bryson being sent to all-female prison

No transgender prisoner with a history of violence against women will be accommodated in a women’s prison, Scotland’s justice secretary has announced, as the country’s prison service announced an urgent review of all transgender inmates.

It comes two days after Nicola Sturgeon said she did not favour “a blanket approach” to transgender prisoners, and amid growing pressure on her government after reports that another violent transgender prisoner had been approved for transfer into the female prison estate.

In an unscheduled statement late on Sunday afternoon, the justice secretary, Keith Brown, announced a pause on the movement of all transgender prisoners pending the outcome of an urgent review of the case of Isla Bryson, a transgender woman whose move to Scotland’s only all-female prison, Cornton Vale, last week immediately after being convicted of two rapes prompted outrage.

Bryson was moved to a men’s prison on Thursday after an intervention from Sturgeon, who said she believed no rapist should be held in a women’s prison.

It means that no transgender person already in custody with any history of violence against women will be moved from the male to the female estate, nor will any newly convicted or remanded transgender prisoner with a similar offending history be placed in the female estate.

This will include a halt to the transfer to a women’s prison of Tiffany Scott, first reported in the Daily Record on Saturday, who is subject to an order for lifelong restriction – reserved for Scotland’s most violent and dangerous offenders – after admitting stalking a 13-year-old girl by sending letters from jail, an offence committed while living as a man. She has a history of attacking female staff.

The announcement follows calls from across the political and campaigning spectrum to ban transgender women from female prisons or to create specialist wings for transgender offenders, who make up about 0.2% of the prison population.

The justice secretary, Keith Brown, said: “I understand that the issue of any trans woman being convicted of violent and sexual offences is a highly emotive subject and that the public concern is understandable.

“As the first minister pointed out last week, we must not allow any suggestion to take root that trans women pose an inherent threat to women. Predatory men are the risk to women. However, as with any group in society, a small number of trans women will offend and be sent to prison. Therefore, I hope that the measures I am about to highlight will offer reassurance in the ongoing ability of the prison service to manage trans individuals and ensure the safety of all prisoners.”

He added: “We must also never forget that there are victims in these cases. My thoughts remain with them.”

Critics of the Scottish government’s gender recognition reforms – which the UK government has blocked from going for royal assent because of “safety issues for women and children” – have argued the cases vindicate their concerns about lack of safeguards in the bill.

But Brown said: “It is important to be clear, however, that SPS [Scottish Prison Service] policies have in no way been changed or impacted by the recent passing of the gender recognition reform bill (which, in any event, is not yet in force).”

A Scottish Prison Service spokesperson said: “Our first concern is always, and remains, the health, safety and wellbeing of all the people in our care, and that of our staff. We have very robust risk assessment processes, and a track record of keeping people safe in often challenging circumstances. We have therefore paused the movement of all transgender individuals, until the review has been completed.”

They added that the current policy review of management of transgender prisoners, which is expected to be published in the coming months, would now be “independently assessed by experts in women affected by trauma and violence”.


Libby Brooks Scotland correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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