Male transgender prisoners 'pose a danger' to women in Scottish jails

Nicola Williams, spokeswoman for the Fair Play for Women group. Picture:Sky News
Nicola Williams, spokeswoman for the Fair Play for Women group. Picture:Sky News
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A female rights campaign group has claimed that women are being put in danger because Scottish prison chiefs allow male-bodied transgender inmates to live in female-only parts of jails.

Under present Scottish Prison Service (SPS) guidelines, prisoners born male but identifying as female can be placed in women-only areas of prison estate, even if they have not legally changed gender or undergone any reassignment surgery.

But the SPS is facing calls from female rights campaign group, Fair Play for Women, to review its rules.

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The guidelines

SPS is clear that risk assessments are always carried out on prisoners and that there have been cases where they have not progressed people into a facility of their preferred gender as a result. But their policy states that a "male-to-female person person in custody living permanently as a woman without genital surgery should be allocated to a female establishment."

It adds: "She should not be automatically regarded as posing a high sexual offence risk to other people in custody and should not be subject to any automatic restrictions of her association with other people in custody."

Calls for a review

It comes after a case in England in which Karen White, who was born male but identifies as female, admitted sexually assaulting four inmates in a women's jail. The former drag artist had had a long record of sexual and violent offences against women.

There are currently 18 trans prisoners in Scottish jails at the moment, some but not all of whom are living in jails corresponding to their self-declared identity, rather than the sex they were born with.

In Scotland this year two transgender murderers had to be split up after they formed a relationship in Greenock prison that unsettled other prisoners. Insiders told the Daily Record that they suspected the pair were faking their gender identities to get a "cushier time in prison."

What are Fair Play for Women saying?

Nicola Williams, spokeswoman for the group, claims SPS policy is open to abuse and is calling for a review to find a way to better safeguard female prisoners, while protecting the rights of transgender prisoners. She says that the views and safety of women have not been given enough weight when writing the policy, as no women's rights groups were consulted on it.

And Ms Williams backs the idea of providing 'trans only' spaces in jails as a solution that would protect everybody's rights and safety. She says that, with rising numbers of people identifying as transgender, there is a heightened risk that male-bodied prisoners who want to harm women will try and exploit this by "pretending" to self-identify as a woman.

She added: "The Karen White case shows that the risk assessment process can go wrong. There seems to be a genuine problem at the moment with being able to do these risk assessments fairly, to balance risks to women and the needs of transgender people. The need for transgender people has been prioritised over the needs of women. We would be worried to see what's happened in this case happen again."

View of The Scottish Trans Alliance

Becky Kaufmann leads Scottish Trans Alliance’s justice work and has more than 20 years' experience as a prison officer. She said: "Scottish Trans Alliance is not naïve about the complexities involved in managing trans people in custody. Scottish Trans Alliance regards comprehensive individualised risk assessments as essential for SPS decision-making about transgender prisoners.

"Housing decisions must be made extremely carefully and the safety of all prisoners and staff is the highest priority. Trans prisoners are very diverse in terms of their length of sentence, integration in their gender identity, risk level, vulnerability and rehabilitation programme needs, so it would not be appropriate or lawful to automatically isolate them all away from other prisoners.

"The SPS policy contains safeguards to prevent abuse. Scottish Trans Alliance has always encouraged Scotland’s women’s equality sector to contribute to all transgender policy formation."

What do the SPS say?

A spokesman said: "We take the safety and wellbeing of staff and those in our care very seriously. There have been occasions where we have not progressed people into facilities of their preferred gender... We look at each case on individual merit.

"We have very carefully considered the policy that we have applied to transgender people in prisons and we operate that policy in a way to ensure the rights and health and safety of everybody is protected."