NICOLA Sturgeon has said that the Scottish Parliament’s gender reform legislation “doesn’t in any way change the system” which determines what prison transgender criminals are sent to.
In the wake of the conviction of Isla Bryson, who was found guilty on Tuesday of raping two women before she transitioned, the First Minister said that people needed to “focus on the facts” when they were discussing Bryson’s case and the issue of housing transgender criminals in the prison system.
It is understood that Bryson is currently being held in Cornton Vale women’s prison although will not be accommodated alongside the jail’s general population.
A risk assessment is set to be carried out to decide where Bryson should be imprisoned ahead of her sentencing in February.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4, the First Minister said: “This is where we really need to focus on the facts.
“There is no automatic right for a trans woman convicted of an offence to go to a women’s prison. The Scottish Prison Service individually assesses all prisoners or potential prisoners, does detailed risk assessments, obviously, of the safety of the individual prisoner, but of those that will be around the individual prisoner.
“This idea that because somebody, who of course may have committed crimes as a man, but then tries to change gender simply to avoid going to a man’s prison, there is no such automaticity around that. This is about individual risk assessments.
“Whatever your view of this, the gender recognition bill passed by the Scottish Parliament doesn’t in any way change the system.”
She also hit back at claims that women were against the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, pointing to the fact that many long-standing women’s groups in the country were in favour of the legislation.
“If we look at the main, long-established, very high reputation women’s groups in Scotland,” she added. “All of these organisations that work day in and day out with abused women, women that are victims of male violence, have been in favour of this change around gender recognition.
“So, I think sometimes there is a tendency to say that all women and all women’s groups are against this. Nothing could be further from the truth.
“This is a piece of legislation that doesn’t give a trans person a single additional right. It simply reforms an existing process, a process that’s been possible of legally changing gender since 2004.”
She continued: “There would be many bad faith actors, in my view, in this debate, people who want to use the cloak of women’s rights to effectively discriminate against trans people.
“For women who have expressed concerns, the concerns are real about predatory men who attack woman. As a women I understand those concerns, at times in my life I have had those fears and concerns. But this Bill does not give a man, a predatory man, a single additional way of abusing a woman.”
She added that she condemned attacks on opponents of the plans, such as SNP MP Joanna Cherry.
“I would condemn any incident of abuse on this issue or any issue of somebody who is simply raising concerns.
“I have received more abuse on this issue than on probably any other issue I have been involved in as a politician. Some vile, horrible abuse.
“I know what that is like and that is wrong.”