Sturgeon’s move follows outcry over trans attacker
Nicola Sturgeon is considering a directive to ensure that no more rapists are sent to women’s prisons after an outcry over a trans woman convict.Isla Bryson was placed in a segregation unit at Cornton Vale women’s jail pending sentencing after being found guilty of raping two women while still identifying as a man. Bryson, who declared that she was transgender after being charged by police in 2019, was moved to a male wing of HMP Edinburgh yesterday afternoon.Last night it was revealed Bryson had enrolled in a beauty course at Ayrshire College’s Kilwinning Campus while awaiting trial. Bryson began taking the course after being charged.Sturgeon told first minister’s questions she agreed with Sandy Brindley, chief executive of Rape Crisis Scotland, who said: “I don’t see how it is possible to have a rapist within a female prison.”
Sturgeon said: “I am very clear that I agree with that statement. There is no automatic right for any trans woman to serve their sentence in a female prison. That is subject to robust risk assessment, which is right and proper.”Her pronouncement contradicted Keith Brown, her justice secretary, who said on Wednesday that ministers should defer to the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) on the placement of prisoners. He told MSPs: “The SPS manages transgender people . . . based on the assessment of risk for the individual, for other prisoners and for prison staff. I would suggest that the SPS is far more expert in assessing and dealing with that risk than any of us in this chamber.”Less than 24 hours later MSPs were told Bryson, 31, would be moved out of Cornton Vale, near Stirling, and would be kept out of the entire women’s prison estate after discussions between ministers and the SPS. The Scottish government insisted no official directive was issued but confirmed Sturgeon’s views were made clear and the SPS was expected to heed them.The first minister’s spokesman said: “It was only right and proper that she made her views known publicly and also to the SPS . . . You would expect ministers’ and the first minister’s views to be communicated to the SPS in a case like this. Of course if ministers’ views are known . . . I would expect the SPS would take ministers’ views into account as part of their overall assessment of a tricky case like this, but they operate at an arm’s length from ministers.”
Rhona Hotchkiss, a former governor of Cornton Vale, questioned the handling of the case last night.She told BBC Scotland: “Segregation shouldn’t be used for this kind of issue. You are only supposed to segregate people if they are presenting a current threat to others and you can only do it for 72 hours and then it has to be approved by Scottish ministers.“Had this person been sent to a male prison, as they should have been in the first place, there would have been no need to put them into segregation.”Scottish prison service rules empower ministers to set aside particular prisons or parts of prisons for particular categories of prisoners or purposes.
The first minister’s spokesman confirmed that ministers would consider activating this clause for rapists in light of the issues raised in the Bryson case.“If policies are there to be used then clearly we will consider it, as we do on all such things, not just in relation to prison matters,” he said. “Ministers will always consider using powers where it is appropriate to do so. Going forward the SPS will continue to have a risk assessment framework in place which they apply on a case-by-case basis.”It emerged yesterday that the warrant issued by the court after Bryson’s conviction stated she should go to HMP Barlinnie, Scotland’s biggest male prison.The SPS is not bound by the court’s direction and it is not uncommon for convicts to be sent elsewhere, particularly if the recommended prison is full or unsuitable for other reasons.A court spokesman said Bryson, of Clydebank, was not subject to a sexual offences prevention order (Sopo), a strict monitoring condition that keeps serious sex offenders away from possible future victims.Sturgeon’s Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, which was vetoed by Westminster, would have prevented trans people charged with a crime from obtaining a gender recognition certificate (GRC) if they were subject to a Sopo.Criminals who hold a GRC can still be refused entry to women’s prisons if the SPS believes they are at risk of being harmed or harming other prisoners and staff.
Joanna Cherry KC, the former SNP justice spokeswoman, accused Bryson of “gaming the system” to get into a women’s prison .Labour said Bryson should not be in a women’s jail. Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, told the BBC: “If someone poses a danger to women, has committed crimes against women, they should not be housed among women prisoners.”