Scottish prisons abandon Nicola Sturgeon’s trans self-ID policy


Scotland’s prison service has abandoned Nicola Sturgeon’s self-identification policy for new prisoners, announcing that it would base decisions on where to send them entirely on their biological sex.

In a major climbdown following the scandal of a transgender rapist being placed in a female jail, the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) said it would disregard a prisoner’s gender identity when making initial decisions about whether to send them to a male or female jail.

The shift, affecting newly convicted or remanded trans offenders, marks a major reversal of previous prison service policy in Scotland, which was heavily influenced by trans activists.

It goes much further than a policy announced by SNP ministers in the days immediately after the Isla Bryson scandal erupted, which only banned trans prisoners “with any history of violence against women” from being housed in female jails.

Trans prisoners in Scotland had previously been told they would be “allocated” based on their gender identity after being convicted or remanded.

The U-turn moves the regime for managing trans prisoners north of the border closer to the system in England, where ministerial approval is needed to send trans women to female jails in most cases.

It also deals a further blow to Ms Sturgeon’s push to allow Scots to change their legal gender without providing any evidence.

The law, passed at Holyrood in December, was vetoed by the UK Government because of fears it would put women and girls in danger and be exploited by sexual predators.

The SPS was already reviewing its policy, designed so that trans prisoners could be their “authentic selves”, but a series of interim measures was announced on Thursday. They were published alongside an urgent review of the Bryson case carried out by the prison service, the findings of which were accepted by Teresa Medhurst, its chief executive.

While it is still possible that a trans woman would be sent from a male to female jail following a risk assessment, the SPS said it would place greater emphasis on a criminal’s “previous offending history”. All cases in which trans women are currently in female jails or prison wings in Scotland are being examined.

Interim standard operating procedures

Keith Brown, Ms Sturgeon’s justice secretary, also published a short summary of the events that led to Bryson, who was previously known as Adam Graham, being transported to the Cornton Vale women’s jail last month after being convicted of two rapes.

In line with court service guidance that allocates prisoners to jails based on their biological sex, contractor GeoAmey was told to take Bryson to HMP Barlinnie men’s prison in Glasgow but was diverted after the SPS was informed that the rapist identified as a woman.

The prison service decided to house Bryson at Cornton Vale “in alignment with current policy” on self-ID, in the separation and reintegration unit. In a letter to Mr Brown, Ms Medhurst said Bryson came into contact with no female inmates and they were not “at risk of harm”.

Outlining the new procedure for dealing with trans offenders, she said those already in the prison system would continue to be barred from being transferred to a female jail if they have “any history of violence against women, including sexual offences”.

But she then announced the tougher policy for newly convicted and remanded prisoners, saying they “will initially be placed in an establishment commensurate with their birth gender”.

Ms Medhurst said ministerial approval would be needed in cases where there were “exceptional circumstances” in which a trans inmate with a history of violence against women might be placed in the female estate.

“I have instructed the development of interim standard operating procedures to be put in place with immediate effect to ensure that these above measures are put into operation consistently across the prison estate,” she added.

The change in policy since the Bryson scandal erupted meant that a transgender butcher charged with abduction following the disappearance of an 11-year-old girl in the Scottish borders was taken to a male jail on Thursday.

Andrew Miller, also known as Amy, appeared at court wearing red nail varnish, entered no plea and was remanded in custody. The girl was found “safe and well” on Monday after being missing for more than a day.

Russell Findlay, the community safety spokesman for the Scottish Tories, described the U-turn as “extraordinary”, claiming it “appears to turn the existing trans prisoner policy on its head, effectively abandoning the principle of self-ID”.

“Keith Brown seems to be making it up as he goes along, changing the rules in response to every new headline,” said Mr Findlay. “Days ago, he said violent male-born prisoners would not be sent to women’s prisons. Now the SPS seem to be saying that all male-born prisoners will be banned.”

Attacking the SNP’s refusal to release the full report, he added: “This is typical of SNP secrecy and raises more questions than answers. It is clear that this shoddy stunt is part of the ongoing exercise in damage limitation for Nicola Sturgeon, not a sincere attempt to learn lessons.”

Michael Foran, a Glasgow law lecturer, warned that trans prisoners holding a gender recognition certificate stating that they are legally female could sue the SPS if they are placed in a male prison.

Meanwhile, at Holyrood Ms Sturgeon refused for at least the 13th time to state whether she believes Bryson was a man or a woman. At a press conference earlier this week, the First Minister referred to Bryson as “her”.