Scotland: Trans women with record of hurting women to be sent to male prisons

Trans women who have a history of hurting or threatening other women will be held in male prison facilities, bar “exceptional circumstances, a new Scottish policy states.

The updated guidance from the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) comes in the months following the conviction of trans woman Isla Bryson, who is charged with two attacks on women in 2016 and 2019.

Bryson was initially placed in a female prison facility after being found guilty, which sparked public outcry and led to Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon eventually ruling that she would instead be held in an all-male prison.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that trans inmate Isla Bryson will be housed in a male prison
Nicola Sturgeon ruled that Bryson would be held in an all-male prison. (Ken Jack/Getty Images)

Earlier policy, drawn up in 2014, had required the SPS to hold prisoners in facilities that matched their gender identity, rather than the sex they were assigned at birth.

Following Bryson’s conviction this February, that policy was updated to ensure that any trans person in jail with a history of violence against women would be forced to remain in male prison facilities.

Now, a new policy, which will come into effect on 26 February 2024, reaffirms that trans women may not move into a female prison facility if they have a history of a crime that harmed a woman – unless “compelling evidence that they did not present an unacceptable risk of harm to those in the women’s prison” is found.

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Offences that would prevent a trans woman from being held in a female prison facility include sexual offences, murder, assault, abduction, bullying and intimidation, commercial sexual exploitation, and breach of peace.

A prison guard at Pentonville Prison stands behind a locked gate.
A new policy ensures trans women will be held in male prisons unless there are “exceptional circumstances.” (Ian Waldie/Getty)

The policy ensures that transgender women prisoners will be held in male facilities until the SPS acquires enough information to “reach a decision that a trans individual can be safely accommodated” in a facility that matches their affirmed gender.

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Chief executive of the SPS Teresa Medhurst reaffirmed that only in exceptional circumstances could trans-woman prisoners be moved to a female facility, so long as their offences were historic and low-level.

“I am content that everyone who is a transgender individual is located in the prison which best suits their risk and needs profile,” Medhurst said, per BBC News.

Meanwhile, trans male prisoners will be held in female facilities – though those who have a record of violence against women may be kept separate from other inmates if it is deemed “necessary” in order to “keep women in custody safe.”

According to the SPS, there were just 23 trans prisoners in Scotland from January to March this year. 

Of that 23, 19 were trans women and four were trans men. Of those 19 trans women, seven had been held in a women’s prison, while one of the four trans men was held in a male prison.

Some conservative figures have already opposed this policy update, arguing that the possibility of allowing trans women into female prisons, even if only under “exceptional circumstances” was “unacceptable.”

Shortly after Bryons was admitted –albeit briefly – to a female prison facility, a review was conducted and determined that female inmates were “at no point” at risk of harm.

The review found that Bryson had not come into contact with any other inmates during her time in the all-female facility.

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