A transgender woman has been convicted of raping two women in attacks carried out before she changed gender.
Isla Bryson is now in custody and facing a lengthy jail term – but where she should serve that sentence is the subject of heated debate.
It has led to concerns about the safety of any women held alongside Bryson in a female prison.
The Scottish Prison Service says the decision on where transgender prisoners are housed is taken on a case-by-case basis after appropriate risk assessments.
Who is Isla Bryson?
Bryson, 31, was found guilty of two counts of rape at the High Court in Glasgow on Tuesday.
She committed the crimes in Clydebank and Glasgow in 2016 and 2019 while known as a man called Adam Graham.
It is thought to be the first time a trans woman has been convicted of raping women in Scotland.
Bryson made the decision to transition from a man to a woman while awaiting trial.
Following her conviction, Judge Lord Scott warned Bryson that a “significant custodial sentence” was inevitable.
It is understood that she is currently being held in Cornton Vale women’s prison in Stirling, where she is likely to be kept apart from other inmates, before being sentenced in February.
How many transgender prisoners are there in Scotland?
Bryson is one of relatively few trans prisoners in Scotland.
According to the latest Scottish Prison Service statistics, there were 11 trans women, four trans men and three non-binary/gender fluid prisoners between July and September 2022.
There were 7,092 male prisoners and 280 female inmates.
By comparison, in England and Wales there were 230 trans prisoners at the last count on 31 March 2022. Of the 49 transgender prisoners in female prisons, six were trans women; and of the 181 in the male estate, 162 were trans women.
Other high profile transgender prisoners in Scotland have included Katie Dolatowski, a 22-year-old trans woman who was held in Cornton Vale last year after breaching a restriction of liberty order.
In 2018 she sexually assaulted a 10-year-old girl in a Kirkcaldy supermarket toilets, and filmed a 12-year-old girl on the toilet at a separate supermarket.
What is the Scottish Prison Service’s policy?
The prison service says the decision on where to house trans prisoners is taken on a case-by-case basis.
Fiona Cruickshank, the head of the prison services’ public protection unit, told BBC Scotland that it considers the risks posed by and to the individual prisoner.
They are balanced with consideration for the safety and wellbeing of other inmates and staff.
“If we think an individual poses particular risks or there is a particular risk to them then we have the opportunity to remove them and keep them separated until such times as a decision is made on how we best manage that risk,” she said.
Segregating prisoners can affect their mental health and wellbeing, so they always aim to integrate them back into the mainstream population.
In the case of transgender prisoners, it would happen slowly, with “robust risk management, close monitoring and supervision and case conferences”, Ms Cruickshank said.
There would always be the option to put the prisoner back into full time segregation, she added.
And she confirmed that one result of a risk assessment could be a decision that it was not possible to house a trans woman in the female prison estate.
What was the reaction to the case?
Justice Secretary Keith Brown said he was confident in the prison service’s ability to minimise risk.
“The facts of the matter are that the Scottish Prison Service has a long track record – I’m talking 20 years and more – of assessing risks within our prisons, including those presented by the presence of trans prisoners – both for the trans prisoners themselves and other prisoners,” he said.
“They don’t do this work quickly. They do it over a period of time, involving lots of different organisations. They do a full risk assessment and they take decisions based on that.”
During the debate on the bill there were attempts to bar sex offenders from changing their legal sex by obtaining a gender recognition certificate. However, those amendments were defeated.
Under the terms of bill which was passed, anyone subject to a sexual harm prevention order or sexual offences prevention order would not be allowed to seek a GRC.
However, SNP MP Joanna Cherry said Bryson should be moved to men’s prison.
“To many people, it will look like this convicted rapist has gamed the system in order to try and garner sympathy, and to end up in a women’s prison,” she told Times Radio.
“And I think a lot of people will be shocked by that.”
She also said she was very concerned about the safety of the women prisoners.
Campaigners have warned that female inmates are extremely vulnerable.
Kate Coleman, director of Keep Prisons Single Sex, said many had been diagnosed with mental health problems, and were likely to have experience of domestic abuse and sexual violence by men.
She said the crimes they commit which lead to them being imprisoned are often bound up with the domestic relationships with the men in their lives.
In prison, she fears that these women are “literally a captive audience” for transgender inmates.
But as well as the threat of sexual and physical violence, she is concerned about the psychological impact on vulnerable female prisoners.
“The women react viscerally to the male in their presence… there’s real fear,” she said.
Rape Crisis Scotland has also spoken out against any move to place people convicted of rape in a women’s prison.
In a tweet, the organisation said: “Rape is an extremely serious offence – in deciding where to place any convicted sex offender, the priority must be the safety of other women prisoners.
“It is not appropriate for someone convicted of any serious sexual offence to be placed within the general female population.”