SPS Policy for the Management of Transgender People in Custody

In late 2019, SPS committed to review its Gender Identity and Gender Reassignment Policy for those in our Custody (2014). The introduction of the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill and the case of transgender prisoner, Isla Bryson, brought the policy to wider attention and became more politicised than it had been previously.

It was criticised by some for foregrounding transgender rights over the rights of those accommodated alongside and working with transgender prisoners. Much of the criticism was focused around issues of safety and the policy’s interaction with equality legislation. In light of the debate, interim admission arrangements were introduced which meant that no transgender woman with a history of violence against women and girls (VAWG) could be housed in the female prison estate. This included instances where transgender women could be held in segregation in women’s prisons during a period of individualised risk assessment, as in the Isla Bryson case.

On 5 December 2023 SPS published its new policy: SPS Policy for the Management of Transgender People in Custody. An operational policy for SPS Staff (2023) which comes into effect on 26 February 2024. 

The new policy is considerably shorter than its predecessor, which included more detailed explanations of terminology and processes specific to transgender people, and which appeared to be targeted at both internal and external audiences. The new policy largely avoids this by introducing a separate internal Operational Guidance Document. This internal ‘policy in practice’ document covers various topics including admissions; decisions around the accommodation of those convicted of violence against women and girls (VAWG); body-searching; and transitioning whilst in custody. The new policy is also accompanied by a summary of the review process; an Equality and Human Rights Impact Assessment; a Child Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment; and a Data Protection Impact Assessment.

The Case for Gendered and Intersectional Approaches to Justice

On 23 August 2023, the Scottish Government published, ‘The Case for Gendered and Intersectional Approaches to Justice’, an independent report commissioned through its Women in Justice Leadership Panel. It concludes that a gendered approach to supporting women in the criminal justice system could lead to improved legitimisation of the system.

Mental Welfare Commission Report: Women and Mental Ill-Health

On 8 July 2021, the Mental Welfare Commission published a report entitled,‘Concerns About the Care of Women with Mental Ill-Health in Prison in Scotland: An Analysis of the Records of Nine Women in Custody’. It reviewed the records of nine women who received mental health care in prison custody in Scotland between 2017 and early 2020 in response to a a report by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (the CPT) in October 20191 about their visit to police and prison premises in Scotland in October 2018. The CPT had raised serious concerns about the wellbeing of women with mental ill health in HMP YOI Cornton Vale, particularly about delays in accessing inpatient treatment, and about women with personality disorder not being eligible for transfer to a psychiatric hospital.




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