Prison service says women were 'not at risk' from trans rapist Isla Bryson

Bryson was initially housed in segregation at the all-female Cornton Vale prison near Stirling.

Scottish Prison Service concludes women were ‘not at risk’ of being harmed by trans rapist Isla Bryson Spindrift

Trans rapist Isla Bryson was not in contact with women while housed at HMP Cornton Vale, the Scottish Prison Service has confirmed.

The key findings of an urgent review found that Bryson was housed in a segregation unit at the all-female jail and orders from the governor meant there was no contact with other prisoners.

It also found “at no time during this period were any women in SPS care at risk of harm as a consequence of the management of the individual”.

Bryson, who has now been moved to the male prison estate, was found guilty of raping two women in 2016 and 2019 in Clydebank and Glasgow before she changed gender.

Recommendations made by the review, which was completed at the end of last week, include improved communication within the justice sector and the creation of a “shared justice process” for the admission of transgender people into prisons.

In addition to the recommendations, the SPS is also undertaking a full multi-disciplinary case review for each transgender person in custody. The service is also continuing to progress a review of the management of trans prisoners as part of its GIGR Policy Review.

Until these reviews are complete any transgender person in custody who has a history of violence against women – including sexual offences will not be relocated from the male to female estate.

Additionally, newly convicted or remanded transgender prisoners will be placed in an establishment that aligns with their birth sex.

Justice secretary Keith Brown, who ordered the review, welcomed the findings in a letter to the Scottish Parliament’s Criminal Justice Committee.

He said: “Firstly, I want to acknowledge my concern for victims of crime and the distress caused to them. 

“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.

“All recommendations from the review have been accepted by Ms Medhurst (SPS Chief Executive Teresa Medhurst) as chief executive and will be progressed by SPS in collaboration with others as needed.”

The SPS has also been conducting a Gender Identity and Gender Reassignment (GIGR) policy review since 2019 in response to concerns raised about welfare of people in its care.

Brown confirmed the new policy on assessing transgender prisoners would remain in place pending the findings of the GIGR review.

“As confirmed in the letter, SPS will factor the learning identified from this review into its Gender Identity and Gender Reassignment (GIGR) Policy Review, which is ongoing,” he said.

“Pending the outcome of the GIGR Policy Review, measures to provide reassurance as set out in Ms Medhurst’s letter will remain in place.”

Scottish Prison Service recommendations following Bryson review:

  1. The creation of a shared justice process for admitting transgender people to prisons in Scotland – to help improve decision making at admission and subsequent case conferences.
  2. Better communication between justice partners to ensure a clearer approach to the transfer of transgender people from court to custody.
  3. For the wider SPS Gender Identity and Gender Reassignment Policy Review to consider improvements to “admission” and “placement and management” and for SPS to consider the weight of a person’s previous offending history to be considered as part of the case conference process.
  4. To strengthen the balance around the risk of harm with an individualised approach as part of the admissions process to prison, allowing for someone to be located in secure isolation for the sole purpose of a risk assessment based on known and unknown risks.

Medhurst, in her own letter to the committee, said: “It is clear from the conclusion of the review that SPS decisions were in keeping with existing SPS policies and procedures in shaping operational decisions.

“The application of the current policy and prison rules meant that the individual had no access to women due to their removal from association.”

Ross questions First Minister about prison review at FMQs

Key findings and recommendations resulting from the review were published on Thursday, but SPS chief executive Teresa Medhurst said she believed it “is not necessary” to publish the report due to the level of personal information it contains.

At First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross urged Nicola Sturgeon to commit to publishing the full report, as opposed to just the “findings”.

“The First Minister claims I’m clutching at straws on this – it seems she’s clutching on to this report, because she’s not willing to issue it in full today,” he said.

“The report findings, we’re told, will be published at some point, why not today? Why not publish the findings and the full report that your justice secretary has had for over 24 hours?”

Ross also questioned the First Minister on the case of Tiffany Scott, who was convicted of stalking a 13-year-old girl while Andrew Burns and had requested to be moved to the female prison estate.

On the day reports of Scott’s request appeared, The Scottish Government halted transfers of trans prisoners with a history of violence against women to female facilities.

Ross said his party had spoken to a retired prison officer who said officers had been “threatened with disciplinary measures” if they refused to refer to Scott with female pronouns.

Sturgeon said that Brown will update the Criminal Justice Committee this week with Holyrood entering recess for a week on Friday.

She said that both the justice secretary and Medhurst will attend the Justice Committee on February 22.

Sturgeon said: “Those on the prison estate are dealt with depending on the nature of the crime and the nature of the risk posed and, again, it’s important for reasons of public assurance to underline that as well, and that is demonstrated in the two recent cases that have been cited in the media in recent days and here again today.”

She said the SPS has been dealing with transgender prisoners for “many, many years now” and have been doing so “safely and effectively”, and that the prison service can use technology to search prisoners.

“The SPS is experienced in these matters, I trust their handling of these matters and it’s important that we continue to ensure they are handled appropriately,” the First Minister said.

The review answers some key questions about the process by which Bryson was housed in Cornton Vale.

Upon conviction on January 24, Bryson was taken by contractor GeoAmey from the court, bound for HMP Barlinnie, but was diverted after the prison service was informed of her identifying as a woman.

The court service, the report found, allocates prisoners to facilities based on their sex rather than gender, meaning Bryson was sent in the first instance to the male estate.

The prison service took the decision to house Bryson at Cornton Vale “in alignment with current policy”, the review said, in the separation and reintegration unit.

Bryson was also placed under rule 95 (1) of prison rules, meaning the governor of the facility had ordered “that a prisoner must be removed from association with other prisoners, either generally or to prevent participation in a prescribed activity or activities”, which can be done to maintain order in the prison, protect the interests of any prisoner, or ensure the safety of others.

On January 26, the decision was taken to move Bryson to the male estate whereby the conditions of rule 95 (1) were lifted.

A pause on the movement of transgender prisoners with a history of violence against women into the female estate will continue until a wider review of the handling of transgender prisoners can be undertaken.

Scottish Tory community safety spokesman Russell Findlay described the publication as a “whitewash summary”, adding: “We still have no idea why a double rapist was sent into a women’s prison or what involvement SNP ministers had in his removal following the public backlash.

“Given the widespread concern and anger, this report should have been published and in full, not just some woolly summary.

“It is an affront to Bryson’s victims that the prison service is pandering to this rapist’s right as justification for their refusal to publish.

“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.”

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