Transgender rapist Isla Bryson to be moved from women’s prison

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Isla BrysonSpindrift

A trans woman who raped two women before she changed gender will not serve her sentence in a female jail, Scotland’s first minister has said.

Isla Bryson was remanded to Cornton Vale women’s prison after being convicted of carrying out the rapes when she was a man called Adam Graham.

Bryson decided to transition from a man to a woman while awaiting trial.

Nicola Sturgeon has now said Bryson will be removed from the prison soon and will not serve her sentence there.

She was expected to be moved to a male wing of a male prison on Thursday afternoon.

Bryson is due to be sentenced next month after being convicted on Tuesday. It is thought to have been the first time a trans woman has been convicted of raping women in Scotland.

But where that sentence should be served has been the subject of heated debate, with concerns being raised about the safety of other women in the female jail if Bryson was placed there.

The Scottish Parliament passed legislation last month aimed at making it easier for people to change their legally-recognised sex, but Ms Sturgeon has said the changes did not play any part in the Bryson case.

The Gender Recognition Reform Bill has been blocked by the UK government over its potential impact on equalities laws that apply across Scotland, England and Wales.

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Speaking at First Minister’s Questions in the Scottish Parliament, Ms Sturgeon said she agreed that it was not possible to have a rapist within a women’s prison.

Referring directly to the Bryson case, she said: “It would not be appropriate for me, in respect of any prisoner, to give details of where they are being incarcerated.

“But given the understandable public and parliamentary concern in this case, I can confirm to parliament that this prisoner will not be incarcerated at Cornton Vale women’s prison.

“I hope that provides assurance to the public.”

The first minister said any prisoner who posed a risk of sexual offending was segregated from other prisoners including while a risk assessment was carried out.

She said: “There is no automatic right for a trans woman convicted of a crime to serve their sentence in a female prison even if they have a gender recognition certificate.

“Every case is subject to rigorous individual risk assessment and the safety of other prisoners is paramount.”

Adam Graham

Police Scotland

Ms Sturgeon said she expected that Bryson would not be at Cornton Vale in Stirling by the end of a 72-hour segregated assessment period, which would end on Thursday.

The first minister also stressed it was careful that people “do not, even inadvertently, suggest that trans women pose an inherent threat to women”, adding: “Predatory men, as has always been the case, are the risk to women.”

Speaking to journalists outside the chamber, Ms Sturgeon said she had not given any “formal direction” to the Scottish Prison Service on removing Bryson from Cornton Vale.

A spokesman for the first minister would not say if it was now Scottish government policy to bar all rapists from female prisons.

Scottish Justice Secretary Keith Brown said on Wednesday that he trusted the prison service to decide on the correct venue for trans prisoners.

Cornton Vale was until recently Scotland’s only women’s jail, but is being replaced by a series of smaller purpose-built facilities across the country – including HMP Stirling, which is being built on the same site.

‘Screeching U-turn’

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said his party had “warned for months” during the debate over the gender reforms that “violent criminals just like the sex offender, the absolute beast we are discussing today, would try to exploit loopholes in the law and attack and traumatise women.”

He added: “It should not have taken public disgust and a slew of negative headlines about a double rapist being sent to a women’s prison for Nicola Sturgeon to realise this was completely unacceptable and wrong.

“She and her justice secretary have the power to impose a blanket ban on all rapists being sent to women’s prisons, so why is she refusing to exercise it?

“It suggests Nicola Sturgeon’s screeching U-turn in the Bryson case was down to fears over the political risk to herself rather than the safety risk to women prisoners.”

It came as Bryson’s estranged wife, Shonna Graham, 31, said she had a “lot of sympathy for real trans people” but claimed her former partner’s transition was a “sham for attention” and that Bryson is attempting to fool the authorities.

Ms Graham told the Daily Mail: “Never once did he say anything to me about feeling he was in the wrong body or anything”, and accused Bryson of being abusive in their relationship.

During the rape trial, Bryson claimed she knew she was transgender at the age of four but did not make the decision to transition until she was 29, and is currently taking hormones and seeking surgery to complete gender reassignment.

Bryson said that in 2016 she was “struggling with my sexuality and having issues emotionally”.

Presentational grey line

Analysis box by Kirsten Campbell, political correspondent, Scotland

The first minister insists this was a decision taken by the Scottish Prison Service following its usual individual risk assessment procedures.

Asked by journalists if she had intervened in the process, Nicola Sturgeon said she did not formally direct the SPS to move Isla Bryson to a male prison.

But I understand that officials were “crystal clear” about her views on the matter. There was no doubt in their minds that the first minister agreed with the chief executive of Rape Crisis Scotland, who said “It cannot be right for a rapist to be in a women’s prison.”

Bryson will be moved to a male wing of a male prison on Thursday afternoon. Nicola Sturgeon believes that is the right call.

Presentational grey line

Rishi Sunak’s official spokesperson said on Wednesday that the prime minister was aware of the Bryson case and “understood the concerns”.

UK Justice Secretary Dominic Raab tweeted that “transgender women without a Gender Recognition Certificate are sent to male prisons as a matter of course” in England and Wales.

He added: “Our further, common-sense changes will mean transgender women who have committed sex crimes or retain male genitalia can’t be held in women’s prisons, bar the most exceptional cases authorised by Ministers.”

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper also criticised the decision to hold the rapist in a women’s jail.

Speaking to the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 on Thursday, Ms Cooper said: “It should be clear that if someone poses a danger to women and committed crimes against women, they should not be being housed in a women’s prison.

“That is straightforward and I think most people would agree with that.”

A spokesperson for LGBT campaigning group Stonewall said: “It is appropriate that the prison service individually assess all prisoners and carry out detailed risk assessments that are about the safety of both the prisoner and those that they will be in contact with.

“Indeed, this is already the policy across the HM Prison and Probation Service in England and Wales, and the Scottish Prison Service.”

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