MBM response to the Justice Secretary statement on protecting prisoners

The recent controversy over the placement of trans identified male prisoners in female prisons has thrown into sharp relief how, for the best part of a decade, the Scottish Prison Service and Scottish Government have side-lined the needs and interests of female prisoners and staff.

At the time of writing the SPS is reviewing its trans prisoner policy, a process that was due to start in 2019. In the meantime, the Scottish Government has now announced interim measures that will be followed until the review concludes.

While we welcome this move, the measures are exceptionally limited. They fail to account for the fact that most violent or sexual offending by men goes unreported and that few cases are prosecuted in court. It fails to consider factors other than the risk of a sexual or physical assault, overlooking the impact of the presence of a male prisoner on female prisoners’ psychological safety, let alone their privacy and dignity. It adds a caveat: that an offender with a history of violence against women could be placed in the female estate in exceptional circumstances. And it does not appear to regard as relevant that offenders have a history of violence against men, as in the case of Andrew Burns/Tiffany Scott.

The SPS has separately stated in the media that the ongoing policy review will be independently assessed by experts in women affected by trauma and violence. We welcome this move, although the review must not rely on organisations with a history of diminishing and belittling women’s trauma responses, when these are related to accurately reading another person’s sex.

Lastly, it is disappointing that it has taken a high-profile case hitting the headlines for these issues to receive the attention they deserve at senior levels of government.


  1. The Scottish Government statement is here: https://www.gov.scot/news/justice-secretary-statement-on-protecting-prisoners/
  2. The policy adopted here was formulated in Scotland and was not required under any UK-wide legislation. In recent years UK policy has become more restrictive, compared to Scotland. The most recent UK Government update was announced on 25 January 2022.