Urgent review into movement of transgender prisoners ordered – Keith Brown
No transgender prisoner with a history of violence against women will be placed in the women’s prison estate – while an “urgent” review has also been ordered, Scotland’s Justice Secretary has said.
Keith Brown said the rule will include those guilty of sexual violence towards women.
Mr Brown announced the measures on Sunday, after MSPs voiced anger at reports that prisoner Tiffany Scott’s request to move to the women’s estate had been rubber stamped.
Earlier in the week, Isla Bryson was initially sent to the women’s prison at Cornton Vale after being convicted of two rapes – which were carried out when she was a man – before being moved to a men’s prison.
After Bryson’s case was raised at First Minister’s Questions, Nicola Sturgeon said the prison service carried out individual risk assessments in such cases and no “formal direction” had been given by the Scottish Government.
In a statement, the Justice Secretary said the measures would be in place until the Scottish Prison Service completes a review of its management of trans prisoners.
Mr 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.
“We must also never forget that there are victims in these cases. My thoughts remain with them.”
He introduced two rules, the first being that no transgender person already in custody with any history of violence against women will be moved from the male to the female estate.
The second is that no newly convicted or remanded transgender prisoner with a history of violence towards women will be placed in the female estate.
Mr Brown continued: “It is important to be clear, however, that SPS 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).
“SPS have already been undertaking, in dialogue with the Scottish Government and other stakeholders, a review of the management of trans prisoners, which is nearing completion
“In addition, an urgent lessons learned review has been instructed in relation to the case of Isla Bryson, with any learning to be applied immediately to existing transgender cases in the prison estate.
“The latter review will report to the CEO by Friday February 3.”
On Wednesday, Mr Brown told MSPs that he trusted the SPS to manage transgender prisoners when Bryson’s case was raised at Holyrood.
He said the prison service had a “tremendous track record” at managing risk in these cases.
The SPS confirmed the urgent review has begun and the movement of all transgender prisoners is being paused.
A spokesman 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.”
Meanwhile, the Conservatives accused the government of flip-flopping on the issue and called for the review to be completed quickly.
MSP Russell Findlay said: “After much dithering and flip-flopping, the SNP government has finally been shamed into doing the right thing.
“Just days ago, the justice secretary tried to pass the buck, saying decisions on trans prisoners were for the Scottish Prison Service.
“But as public anger escalated, Nicola Sturgeon was forced to intervene by ordering the removal of a double rapist from a women’s prison.
“It should not have taken a second shocking case for them to ban all transfers.”
Mr Findlay also said he would ask Holyrood’s Criminal Justice Committee to investigate the decisions made in the cases of Scott and Bryson.
Scottish Labour’s justice spokeswoman Pauline NcNeill said: “The safety of women and women prisoners is of paramount concern, and it’s welcome to see Mr Brown finally recognise that.
“The SNP have been aware of the failures of the current policy in this area since it was agreed in 2014, it should not have taken this level of public outcry to do the right thing.
“The Scottish Government now needs to change the policy which they oversaw and to bring forward guidance which take account of the views of woman prisoners as a matter of urgency to make sure this does not happen again.”