Rapist to be moved out of women’s prison, confirms Nicola Sturgeon
A trans woman convicted of raping two women will not be housed in a women's prison, Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed.
Isla Bryson was convicted of raping two women – one in 2016 and one in 2019 – at the High Court in Glasgow on Tuesday and was remanded in custody in Cornton Vale women’s prison in Stirling to await sentencing.
The First Minister said Bryson would not be incarcerated in a women’s prison “in either the short term or long term”.
She added Bryson is expected to be moved out of Cornton Vale before the end of the 72-hour period, the maximum time a prisoner can be segregated from the prison population.
Sturgeon also said the agreed with Rape Crisis Scotland that it should not be “possible” for those convicted of rape to serve their sentence in women’s prisons.
She was challenged in the matter by Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross at FMQs.
He said: “The reality is this double rapist, this beast, is in a woman's prison right now. We think it's wrong that a rapist is sent to a women's prison. We believe that a rapist having access to a women's single safe space is a threat.
“So given what the First Minister has just said and given he is currently in Cornton Vale, does the First Minister believe that it's possible for a rapist to be held in a woman's prison, as he is just now, and not be threat?”
Sturgeon said that there is “no automatic right” for a trans woman to be held in a female prison and that those decisions were made based on “rigorous individual risk assessment” conducted by the Scottish Prison Service (SPS).
On the case of Bryson, she said: “Let me be clear: this prisoner is not going to be incarcerated in Cornton Vale, either short term or long term.
“There is an importance of allow the Scottish Prison Service operationally to give effect to what I've just said, and that is important to stress. These are operational matters for the Scottish Prison Service.”
The move signals a U-turn from the government as justice secretary Keith Brown yesterday refused to intervene when Tory MSP Russell Findlay called on him to “direct the SPS to block this rapist and any other from being sent to a women’s prison”.
Brown said decisions on where to house trans prisoners were based on individual risk assessments, and that the SPS were “far more expert in assessing that risk and dealing with it than any of us here in this chamber”.
Speaking after FMQs, the First Minister’s spokesman confirmed that the decision over Bryson was made by the SPS and there was “no formal direction given by government, but they were aware of her [Sturgeon’s] views”.
The FM was told “at some point this morning” about the decision, the spokesman added, after discussion between officials.
And on the general point about rapists not being held in female prisons, the spokesman said Sturgeon agreed with Rape Crisis Scotland that these prisoners should not be held on the female prison estate.
Sandy Brindley, chief executive of Rape Crisis Scotland, told the BBC yesterday that Bryson “absolutely cannot be placed within the general female population”.
On the general question of the risk assessment policy, she said it must prioritise the safety of female prisoners. She added: “I don’t think anybody should be, if they’ve been convicted of a serious sexual offence, I don’t think they should be in the female prison estate.”
A rising number of politicians and other experts – including the former governor of Cornton Vale – are calling on the government not to allow rapists to be held in women’s prisons.
Former community safety minister Ash Regan – who resigned in protest over the Gender Recognition Reform Bill – said the current approach was “unacceptable”.
She tweeted: “Rapists should not be placed in the women’s prison estate. Many female prisoners have been victims of male violence and are vulnerable. It is unacceptable – the policy must be urgently changed.”
Labour shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper also said this morning that no rapist should ever serve time in a women’s prison. She said: “This dangerous rapist should not be in a women’s prison. I think it should be really clear-cut.”
A Scottish Prison Service spokesperson said: “Decisions by the SPS as to the most appropriate location to accommodate transgender people are made on an individualised basis, informed by a multi-disciplinary assessment of both risk and need.
“Such decisions seek to protect both the wellbeing and rights of the individual as well as the welfare and rights of others around them, including staff, in order to achieve an outcome that balances risks and promotes the safety of all, and that is exactly what has happened in this case."