Trans prisoner pause was to give clarity, says Nicola Sturgeon

Scotland's First Minister has told ITV News there are circumstances where a trans woman will be held in a male prison. Scotland Correspondent Peter Smith reports

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.

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.

ITV News Scotland Correspondent Peter Smith pressed Ms Sturgeon on whether there are contexts in which a "woman born as a woman" would be housed in a male prison.

"I don't think there are circumstances there," Ms Sturgeon said, adding "there is a risk assessment process done for trans women that takes account of the nature of the crime".

"Significant concern arises out of sexual crime and whether it is appropriate for them to be in a female prison or a male prison."

Over the weekend, reports emerged that Tiffany Scott – who had been convicted of stalking a 13-year-old girl before her transition – would be sent to a female unit, reports which were denied by Justice Secretary Keith Brown. On Sunday, Mr Brown announced a pause to transgender prisoners with convictions for violence against women being moved to the female estate, along with an urgent review of the handling of the Bryson case.

Scottish Tory community safety spokesman Russell Findlay called on the first minister to make a statement to MSPs this week, adding that his party would seek to amend justice reform legislation being brought to parliament by the government to make the pause permanent.

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“After days of SNP chaos, confusion and U-turns, Nicola Sturgeon must come to parliament as a matter of urgency,” he said. “She needs to explain her government’s shambolic mess and make clear how the safety of female prisoners can be guaranteed. “We need full transparency because the only thing clear at the moment is that the justice secretary is in complete disarray."

He added: "We need a permanent ban to safeguard vulnerable female inmates." The Tory MSP also urged the government to speak to Dr Alice Edwards – the UN special rapporteur on torture – who voiced her concerns about the Scott case on Twitter.

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