“One of the first times I spoke in public on women’s rights was in June 2019, on this subject – what was happening in prisons in Scotland.
I said then “I’ll start by making a general point, which is that in Scotland, as in the wider UK, we lock up too many people, too many women and too many men. “
That’s still my starting point. But we have to deal with where we are, and we will always need policies for people in prison, many of them vulnerable in some way, which ensure they are treated safely and humanely.
With that in mind, I want to talk to you today about risk assessment and about some of the male offenders placed in Scotland’s female prison estate.
In recent weeks, in wake of the Adam Graham/Isla Bryson scandal, Scottish Government Ministers have placed a good deal of faith in risk assessments.
The First Minister said:
‘there is no automatic right for any trans woman to serve their sentence in a female prison. That is subject to robust risk assessment, which is right and proper’.
Politicians are very fond of this word, ‘robust’.
In the case of double rapist Adam Graham, the First Minister wanted to reassure everyone listening that this robust process would, in her words, ‘lead to the right outcome’.
So what do we know about the risk assessment process that the Scottish Prison Service uses?
Dr Alessandra Asteriti, who specialises in international human rights law, used freedom of information to obtain a copy of the risk assessment template the SPS uses to decide where transgender prisoners should be placed and who should carry out searches.
You can see a copy of this on our website, in an excellent guest blog by Dr Asteriti.
The template is opaque and incoherent. It talks about social gender and gender identity and declared gender. At no point does it refer to sex. Nor does it mention women: the one group most likely to be impacted.
It asks, for instance, if the prisoner’s index offence involved ‘violence against a particular gender’. And whether the offender ‘would feel safe housed in the estate matching their declared gender’.
It does not consider how those housed in that estate might feel.
The template itself, it appears, was introduced some years after the policy was put in place, to ward off complaints, after a prisoner refused a transfer complained about a particular decision that was not properly evidenced.
As Dr Asteriti puts it: “In the end, the only risk the SPS seems to be concerned about, was the risk to themselves.”
How has that assessment worked for women? What outcomes does this robust approach allow? We can look at the index offences of several of the men housed, at some stage, in the female estate.
Four were convicted of murder. Adding another three cases brings in torture. Voyeurism. The sexual assault of a ten-year-old girl. Threatening behaviour. Assault. Sexual violence.
In 2019 SPS published its ‘New Model of Custody for Women’. It said that women who had suffered physical or emotional trauma were ‘often hyper-aware of possible danger’ and ‘survivors of trauma may find it difficult to trust others’.
At the same time officials continued to put violent men in the women’s estate, shored up by a risk-assessment tool that bore only a passing relationship to reality.
The First Minister has said that Adam Graham should be in the male estate specifically because he was convicted of rape. As we see, however, this consideration does not appear to extend however, to men convicted of murder or torture.
We know about these other cases because information about them has made it into the press over several years.
They are not a secret that has emerged only in the last few days.
And if any of them had to be held in segregation while in a women’s prison for any period, ministers would have known about them, because they would have been required to sign off the decision to restrict their contact with other prisoners.
But none of these cases appeared to trouble Ministers.
Instead, it has taken a full-blown political crisis and the risk to political careers for ministers to take any notice or care about the impact of their policies on the vulnerable women housed in Scotland’s prisons.
Even now, how far that interest goes beyond managing the news cycle remains open to question.
Perhaps ministers and other politicians in this building think that once the current storm of headlines has abated, they can go back to business as usual on this. If so, however, we are here to tell them they can think again.”
The cases referenced in the speech are detailed below. These have come to light via media reporting and are not exhaustive. The SPS has recently begun to publish statistics on the numbers and placement of offenders with trans identities, which will include some of the offenders noted here.
- Alex Stewart/Alan Baker: murder. Held in the female unit at Greenock prison (see here).
- Sophie/Daniel Eastwood: murder. Held in women-only units at HMP Edinburgh and HMP YOI Polmont, and at HMP YOI Cornton Vale (see here). Whilst still housed in the male estate, Eastwood terrorised a female officer, who left her job as a result (see here).
- Paris Green/Peter Laing: murder & torture (man). Held at Cornton Vale women’s prison and HMP Edinburgh women’s section (see here).
- Richard McCabe/Melissa Young Murder: murder, assaulting (biting) a female officer. Held in remand at Cornton Vale (see here).
- Stuart Kelly/Kaitlyn Findlay: assault, robbery, racially aggravated harassment, dishonesty and threatening police officers. Held at Cornton Vale (see here and here)
- Callum/Stacie Maclean: behaving in a threatening or abusive manner. Held at Cornton Vale.
- Katie Dolatowski: sexual assault and voyeurism. Held at Cornton Vale (see here).
- Alan/Alannah Morgan: threatening and abusive behaviour. Appeared in court as both male and female. Held on remand at Cornton Vale (see here).
- Nicola/Joseph Wilson Assault: assault, robbery and threatening police. Held at Cornton Vale (see here, here and here)
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