Nicola Sturgeon’s government has refused to order that a male-bodied rapist be removed from a female jail, after insisting the “rights” of the sex offender had been properly considered.
Keith Brown, the Justice Secretary, insisted that he trusted the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) to make correct decisions about where transgender prisoners should be housed after Isla Bryson was sent to Cornton Vale women’s jail after being found guilty of rape.
The 31-year-old, who is awaiting sentencing, was previously known as Adam Graham and transitioned after being accused of the sex attacks.
There has been an outcry after the SPS opted to take the prisoner to the women’s jail in Stirling, rather than a male facility, where it is understood Bryson is being held in a segregated unit away from other inmates.
On Wednesday, Downing Street expressed “concerns” about Bryson being held in a women’s jail.
David Blunkett, the former Labour Home Secretary, claimed Bryson being held in a female facility was “simply not acceptable”.
At Holyrood, Mr Brown was told that under prison rules, he could resolve the issue with the “stroke of a pen or with one phone call” by directing jail chiefs to send Bryson to a male prison.
However, he insisted that he would not do so, claiming he trusted the SPS to deal with the situation properly and describing its record for managing trans prisoners as “exemplary”.
He said that under SPS policy, detailed risk assessments were carried out before deciding where to place trans prisoners, which took into account the safety of the trans inmate as well as fellow prisoners.
“It’s a rights-based approach and it’s one which assesses the risks which are involved. I’m content with the process that’s there just now. I think they’ve got a tremendous track record.”
It is understood that there was a presumption that Bryson would be sent initially to Cornton Vale as the rapist had been addressed as a woman during the trial.
Jurors were informed that Adam Graham was the defendant’s “dead name”.
Further meetings will be held to determine whether Bryson should be moved ahead of sentencing, with SPS discussions expected to be held on Wednesday.
The row comes amid a heated debate in Scotland about trans rights after the UK Government stepped in to block a law that would have allowed Scots to change their legal sex by signing a declaration.
Amendments designed to stop convicted sex offenders from changing their sex under the system, or to stop those accused of rape from altering their legal sex before trial, were voted down by SNP, Green and LibDem politicians.
Some supporters of the legislation denounced the attempts as transphobic “dog whistles”.
However, Russell Findlay, the Tory MSP, said the Bryson case had highlighted “fundamental flaws” in the blocked legislation.
He added: “It’s entirely inappropriate, unacceptable and wrong for this vile rapist to be housed in a female prison, which is bound to contain women who have been victims of male violence, sexual violence and abuse.”
Mr Brown insisted that the legislation made no difference to the SPS policy for housing trans prisoners, which was “not dependent” on possession of a gender recognition certificate (GRC).
However, SPS bosses have previously said that possession of a GRC is a factor they take into account when deciding where to send prisoners. They have acknowledged they could be vulnerable to legal action should they refuse to house an inmate in line with their legal sex.
Bryson does not have a GRC but it would have been far easier to acquire one had the proposed SNP system been in force.
The author JK Rowling backed calls for Ms Sturgeon to personally be quizzed over the Bryson case and mocked the First Minister on social media.
Imagining a question Ms Sturgeon, in an image of her staring intently into a young child’s eyes, might have been asking, the Harry Potter author tweeted:
Bryson is due to be sentenced next month and is facing a long prison sentence. It was claimed during the trial that the rapist had known about their trans status at age four. However, they began to be known as Isla after the rape charges.
Bryson was found guilty of raping one woman in Clydebank in 2016 and another in Drumchapel, Glasgow, in 2019.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said on Wednesday: “This is a case in which the courts are yet to hand down a sentence so I’m not going to give anything on the specifics. I’ve seen the reporting and understand the concerns.”
Asked about the general policy, he added: “The UK has a policy which sees the prison service in England and Wales manage transgender prisoners on a case-by-case basis and transgender women must go through a robust risk assessment which factors in their offending history and anatomy before they can be moved to a women’s prison.”