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by Louise Wilson
25 January 2023
Tory MSP calls for government to ‘block’ rapists entering women’s prisons

Isla Bryson was convicted of raping two women at the High Court in Glasgow on Tuesday

Tory MSP calls for government to ‘block’ rapists entering women’s prisons

A Tory MSP has urged the justice secretary to “block” anyone convicted of rape from being sent to a women’s prison.

Russell Findlay raised the case of a trans woman convicted of rape and who is currently being held in a women’s prison while awaiting sentencing.

He said that “violent criminals are exploiting the system and putting vulnerable women at risk” and urged the government to “stop this and intervene”.

Asking an urgent question in the Scottish Parliament, Findlay told justice secretary Keith Brown: “He can put this right at the stroke of a pen or with one phone call. So today, will his government agree to direct the SPS [Scottish Prison Service] to block this rapist and any other from being sent to a women’s prison?”

Brown said he trusted the SPS to take the correct approach. He added: “Every single decision is carried out on the basis of risk. I trust the SPS to do that.”

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.

Decisions on where to place trans prisoners are based on individual risk assessments undertaken by the SPS, as per its 'gender identity and gender reassignment policy’. The risk assessments consider “the safety of the person in custody and others”.

That policy, established in 2014, is currently under review.

Brown confirmed the SPS will publish its analysis and recommendations “in the coming months”, with two parts of the five-stage review complete.

He said he has “faith in their ability to evolve their policy”, adding: “They have a tremendous track record in dealing with managing that risk. I would suggest they are far more expert in assessing that risk and dealing with it than any of us here in this chamber.”

Labour’s Pauline McNeill said that “ordinary women and members of the public are outraged” that a convicted rapist is being housed in a women’s prison.

“The fact that prisoners may be segregated in a women’s jail in the first place speaks to the fact that the very nature of the women’s prison estate is being changed to accommodate this,” she said.

She called for a “rights-based” approach to the review of the SPS policy, adding: “This risk assessment is obviously failing in some way because its impacting on other women prisoners who have not been consulted about how they feel about this risk assessment.”

The justice secretary said the SPS consultation had taken views from female prisoners, “so they will have fed into the outcome of this review”.

He added that once the review was published, he and other members of the parliament would be able to “ask further questions if we remain dissatisfied”.

Findlay also raised the potential impact of the Gender Recognition Reform Bill, which has been blocked by the UK Government.

He said an amendment to the bill, which would prevent a suspected rapist from applying for a gender recognition certificate (GRC) while criminal proceedings were underway, was “voted down by the narrowest of margins”.

But Brown said the passing of the bill “would not have changed” the SPS’s approach as the placement of prisoners does not depend on possession of a GRC.

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