Trans prisoner pause was to give clarity, says Sturgeon

Scotland’s Justice Secretary said there are five transgender prisoners in the women’s estate, none of whom have a history of violence against women.

30 January 2023

The decision to pause the placing of transgender prisoners with a history of violence against women in the female prison estate was taken to provide “clarity”, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

The Scottish Government has been under fire for the past week after double rapist Isla Bryson was placed in a segregation unit in Cornton Vale after conviction and reports emerged that Tiffany Scott – who was convicted of stalking a 13-year-old girl – may be moved to the female estate.

On Sunday, Justice Secretary Keith Brown announced the pause, along with an urgent review to look at the handling of the Bryson case and run parallel to another review of the wider transgender prisoner policy.

Nicola Sturgeon sitting in front of a bank of screens in a TV studio
Nicola Sturgeon (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Current Scottish Prison Service (SPS) policy requires a risk assessment to be undertaken before a transgender prisoner can be placed in the estate with which they identify, but the change will stop any with a history of violence against women – including sexual violence – from being placed in Cornton Vale or any women’s unit across the country until the policy has been reviewed.

Speaking to journalists on Monday, the First Minister said: “The arrangements for dealing with transgender prisoners hasn’t changed, they’ve been in place for some time.

“There has never been an automatic right for a trans woman to serve their sentence in a female prison.

“These decisions are subject to rigorous and robust risk assessment.

She added: “The cases that have been in the media in recent days, those risk assessments were under way.

“There is no reason to assume that the outcome in both of those cases would not have been that they should be in a man’s prison.

“But given the focus and given the concerns that have been posed as a result of the focus on these cases, what we have done is bring absolute clarity to that.”

The First Minister said “pending a wider review”, the change would “make it absolutely clear that no transgender prisoner with a history of violence against women will be placed in the female estate”.

The First Minister also stressed the importance of not “stigmatising” the wider transgender community in a debate about the safeguarding of women in prisons.

“We must never lose sight of the fact that trans people, just like the population as a whole, the vast majority never commit any crimes,” she said.

“Trans women don’t pose an inherent threat to women – it’s abusive and predatory men that do that.

“In any group in society there will be a small number of people who commit crime and do other bad things and that’s what we need to deal with and we must always take care not to stigmatise the broader group.”

Keith Brown in Hoylrood
The Justice Secretary said there were five transgender prisoners in the women’s estate, none of whom had a history of violence against women (Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA)

Earlier in the day, Justice Secretary Keith Brown said there were five transgender women currently in the female estate, none of whom had previous convictions for violence against women.

Asked on BBC Radio Scotland why temporary pause cannot be made Scottish Government policy now, the Justice Secretary stressed the importance of the ongoing Scottish Prison Service (SPS) review into the placement of trans prisoners.

“I believe that we do (have to wait for the review), I think (the SPS) have got a fantastic track record in dealing with this,” he said.

Mr Brown said the SPS is “taking their time to make sure they get this right”, adding that the Scottish Government will look at creating a specific unit for trans prisoners if that is what the review recommends.

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