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Fewer than five trans prisoners still in female jails

Isla Bryson, a transgender woman found guilty of raping two women before she transitioned, was sent to Cornton Vale, an all-female prison
Isla Bryson, a transgender woman found guilty of raping two women before she transitioned, was sent to Cornton Vale, an all-female prison - Police Scotland/Reuters

Fewer than five transgender women are being held in female jails after a major transfer programme in the wake of the Isla Bryson scandal.

Around 10 transgender women are believed to have been deemed potential security risks and moved out of women’s jails following a tightening of the rules in prisons in England and Wales.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) imposed a retrospective ban on transgender prisoners with male genitalia or with a conviction for violent or sexual offences to be held in women’s prisons.

It was introduced by Dominic Raab, then the justice secretary, after Bryson, a transgender woman found guilty of raping two women before she transitioned, was sent to Cornton Vale, an all-female prison.

The subsequent outcry forced the Scottish Government to reverse the policy and led to a review of the rules south of the border.

According to new MoJ data, the number of transgender women in female jails has fallen to between zero and five, excluding those in possession of a gender recognition certificate. The MoJ refuses to be more precise because of the risk of identifying individuals.

However, The Telegraph understands that there were more than dozen transgender female prisoners in female jails last year, including those with certificates, and their number has fallen since the transfers.

Last year, 168 legally-male trans women prisoners were being held in England and Wales – six in women’s prisons and the remainder in men’s prisons.

A further 11 prisoners had legally switched gender and obtained gender recognition certificates. Research shows that men jailed for sexual offences are twice as likely to identify as trans women as men jailed for other types of offences.

Transgender prisoners can be held in men’s jails or in wing E at HMP Downview, a women’s prison reopened as a “transgender unit” to house transgender inmates who could not be safely held in male jails.

The MoJ’s approach differs from Scotland’s. In England and Wales, transgender women can only be held in a female jail if a risk assessment by a Complex Case Board says it is safe to do so. In Scotland there is a presumption they will be held according to self-declared gender identity unless there are concerns about risk.

The rules in England and Wales stipulated that no prisoner with intact male genitalia or a conviction for violent or sexual offences may be housed in the general population of the female estate. Having a gender recognition certificate does not exclude prisoners from the  retrospective policy.

The MoJ says exceptions will be considered only when evidence demonstrates the highest degree of confidence in a low level of risk to female offenders. Exceptions must be signed off by the Justice Secretary.

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