Female prisoners are made to shower with transgender women offenders who are still “anatomically male” in at least one Scottish prison, an MSP has said.
Kenneth Gibson, the SNP politician for Cunninghame North, made the revelation to Scottish Parliament today after calling for a ban on transgender offenders who are physically male being admitted to female prisons.
The Cabinet Secretary for Justice Humza Yousaf said he was “surprised” at the news and that he would look into the matter.
“I have been advised by our recently retired governor that there is at least one female prison where anatomically male prisoners and female prisoners are expected to shower together,” Mr Gibson told the Chamber. “Can you advise on whether or not that is the case?”
“I don’t know the answer to that exact question,” Mr Humza replied, “but it is the case that there will be transgender women who are within the female prison estate. I would be surprised if the situation is as Kenneth Gibson has suggested. I will look into the concerns that he has raised.”
The exchange came ahead of a review that is planned over the coming months by the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) into their Gender Identity and Gender Reassignment Policy, which issues guidelines on how to accommodate transgender offenders.
Current applications are dealt with on a case by case basis, taking into consideration the physical risk factor the inmate may pose.
Mr Gibson informed the Chamber that he recently spoke to a retired prison officer who said that the SPS “would not contemplate” placing a transgender man in a male prison, but “has fewer qualms” about placing a transgender woman in a female prison.
“That can have, and has had, serious impacts on the mental well-being and rehabilitation of vulnerable female prisoners. Is it not time to ensure that people who are physically male are no longer admitted to female-only prisons?,” he asked.
He added: “A risk assessment takes into account only a trans woman’s propensity for violence; it does not assess the potential psychological impact on female prisoners, many of whom are extremely vulnerable, having endured years of violence at the hands of male perpetrators.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, right, replied: “This is obviously a sensitive and controversial issue. It is very important not only that we respect and protect women’s rights—I have spent a lifetime as a committed feminist doing exactly that—but that we respect and protect trans rights and allow a proper debate, as the Government is seeking to do with draft legislation, to convince those who have concerns about the issue that there is not a tension and inevitable conflict between women’s rights and trans rights.”
Mr Yousaf addressed concerns that proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act in Scotland would give transgender prisoners the right to choose whether they are sent to male or female jails.
The Scottish Government plans to make it easier for trans people to legally change their gender, but Mr Yousaf sought to reassure MSPs that it would not have an impact on prisoner accommodation.
The proposed changes would enable trans people to get a gender recognition certificate through self-declaration after six months, rather than requiring medical evidence and a two-year period of living as that gender under the current rules.
Yesterday the Scottish Conservatives tried to secure plans to give political candidates greater protection during hustings in prisons ahead of a new bill which will enable prisoners with sentences under one year to vote.
The Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Bill makes provisions for criminals to vote in prison and is currently half way through the Parliamentary approval process.
Jamie Halcro Johnston MSP introduced an amendment to protect political candidates from and ensure that prison guards and other staff have their safety put first. However, it was voted down by the SNP, Labour and Liberal Democrats.