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by Kirsteen Paterson
09 February 2023
Isla Bryson urgent case review recommends new process for transgender prisoners

Isla Bryson urgent case review recommends new process for transgender prisoners

New systems should be set up to help make decisions about where transgender prisoners serve their sentences, an urgent review into the Isla Bryson case has found.

The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) carried out a lessons learned review after Bryson, who was convicted of rapes committed while living as a man, was diverted to a female facility.

Bryson was initially set to be taken to HMP Barlinnie, but was instead placed in the Separation and Reintegration Unit at women's prison Cornton Vale in a move which has sparked a political row.

The Scottish Government has since confirmed that no prisoner with a history of violent offending against women will serve their sentence in a female jail and the SPS is set to publish a review into its gender identity and gender reassignment (GIGR) policy.

Now the review into the Bryson case has found that "at no point were any women in the care of the prison service at risk of harm" and "the person did not come into contact with any other prisoners during their time" at Cornton Vale.

However, it recommends the creation of a shared justice process for admitting transgender people to prisons to help improve decisions on where they are placed.

There was "conflicting and limited information obtained in relation to the individual and their life previously in the community" even after admission into SPS custody, the review found.

The wider GIGR policy review must also consider improvements into admission and placement and management, it says, with "the weight of a person's previous offending history" considered as part of the case conference process.

The recommendations also include strengthening the balance around the risk of harm with an individualised approach to the admissions process to prison, which will allow for individuals to be placed in secure isolation "for the sole purpose of a risk assessment based on known and unknown risks".

In addition to the recommendations, SPS is undertaking a full multi-disciplinary case review for each transgender person in custody.

No transgender prisoners with a history of violence against women, including sexual offences, will be relocated from the male to female estate in the meantime. Newly-convicted transgender prisoners will be placed in an establishment "which aligns with their gender at birth".

In a letter to justice secretary Keith Brown, SPS chief executive Theresa Medhurst said ministerial approval will be sought for any cases with exceptional circumstances.

However, the full report has not been disclosed due to the "significant amount of personal detail relating to the individual" and SPS staff.

In a letter to the Scottish Parliament's Criminal Justice Committee, Brown said the SPS had accepted all recommendations in the review, adding: "It is important that consideration of issues relating to the management of prisoners is measured and does not retraumatise victims or risk unintended consequences for transgender people or individuals in the care of SPS."

Brown and Medhurst face questions from the Criminal Justice Committee next week.

Scottish Conservative justice spokesman Russell Findlay said this "whitewash summary tells us nothing of any substance" and called for the report to be published in full. He said: "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."

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