The organisation, which is responsible for around 8200 prisoners across 15 jails, has been under pressure to review its policy on where transgender prisoners should be placed after concerns about transwomen in the female estate were first raised in December 2018.
Since then the SPS is believed to have conducted an internal review of its policy and is set to begin its delayed external review next month.
A spokesperson said: “We have a gender recognition policy which is subject to review and it is an incredibly complex issue, and one which we know has seen a lot of heat, if not much light on the subject. As a result we are planning to start a series of conversations with outside organisations in January, which will allow all the concerns around transgender prisoners and where they should be imprisoned to be aired fully, including listening to women prisoners, transgender prisoners, and SPS staff to engage their views.”
The current policy of the SPS means that transgender prisoners do not have to hold a Gender Recognition Certificate – a document which states they are legally recognised to have changed sex after a diagnosis of gender dysphoria – to be placed in either the male or female prison population as they request and after an assessment.
Some women’s groups have claimed that such a policy – allowing “self-identification” by trans prisoners – was not legal, and could be “re-traumatising” for vulnerable female prisoners with a history of suffering male violence.
In February this year, Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf told the Scottish Parliament that the SPS external consultation was expected to begin in October, however it has been hit by delays as a result of Covid.
News of the review was welcomed by Lisa Mackenzie of the feminist policy collective MurrayBlackburnMackenzie, who said the “SPS should now undertake a fully transparent review of this six year old policy, the impact of which on female prisoners has never been considered or assessed.”
The news of the long-awaited review came as the SPS also moved to distance itself from a claim by Dr Matt Maycock, a researcher based at Dundee University, that a paper he wrote on transgender prisoners was “influencing the future direction of this policy in Scotland”.
Published in the Prison Service Journal, Dr Maycock’s paper interviewed 13 transgender prisoners, the majority transwomen, currently held in Scottish jails about whether they supported a separate unit for transgender prisoners such as HMP Downview in England. The overwhelming response was against separate units, instead prisoners wanted “to be treated in the same manner of people of the same gender as them” including “wanting to be searched more, to share a cell and shower at the same time as other people in custody something that is in contrast to what would be seen as undesirable to their fellow people in custody.”
Dr Maycock acknowledges his paper does not “consider the views of women, men and staff about these issues.”
A spokesperson for the SPS said: “Dr Maycock was employed with us until fairly recently, but we are unsure why he would claim this paper to be influencing our policy when it is not.”