New plans to allow transgender women with a history of violence against women and girls to stay in the female prison estate have been blasted by MSPs.

Justice Secretary Angela Constance said the Scottish Prison Service’s new policy on the Management of Transgender People in Custody would support the rights of transgender people and the welfare of other prisoners and staff.

But Tory MSP Russell Findlay said it was "subjective" and urged the Scottish Government "to go back to the drawing board" over the plans.

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Published today, the new policy paper states that a transgender woman “will not be eligible to be considered for admission or transfer to a women’s prison” if they have been convicted for a raft of crimes, including murder, assault, robbery, abduction, rape, and sexual harassment.

However, it goes on to say that there is an exception to this rule if the SPS’s Risk Management Team, and subsequently an executive panel, “are satisfied there is compelling evidence that they do not present an unacceptable risk of harm to those in the women's prison.“

The new position follows on from the row over trans double rapist, Isla Bryson, who first appeared in court facing rape charges as Adam Graham.

Following conviction, the SPS made the decision to divert Bryson to Cornton Vale, Scotland's only women's prison, rather than the planned destination of HMP Barlinnie, sparking outrage. 

The new policy is due to come into force in February 2024. 

It also states that prisoners with a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) can be accommodated  "in accordance with their sex at birth, if it is considered necessary to support people’s safety and wellbeing.”

Other measures include enhanced monitoring or placement in a different area of the establishment where risks can be mitigated or managed.

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Welcoming the policy, Ms Constance said: “This updated policy protects the safety and welfare of staff, those in their care and the rights of transgender people. It makes clear that if a transgender woman meets the service’s violence against women and girls criteria, they will be admitted and accommodated in the male estate.

“SPS has considerable expertise as well as a duty of care for the management of people in their custody and this policy upholds its responsibilities to deliver safe, secure and suitable services for all.”

Mr Findlay, justice spokesman for the Scottish Tories, said: “The SNP shamefully used vulnerable and voiceless female prisoners to impose its dangerous gender self-ID policy by stealth, which resulted in the obscene case of Isla Bryson being sent to a woman’s jail.

“These long overdue new guidelines actually put women at even greater risk by further eroding their fundamental right to single-sex space.

“They say that male prisoners with a history of violence against women or girls should be allowed in the female estate and will only be blocked if they present a risk, which is completely subjective. This is clearly unacceptable – and SNP ministers need to go back to the drawing board.”

Speaking to BBC Radio Scotland on Tuesday, SPS chief executive Teresa Medhurst said: “I can say that anyone who has a history of violence against women and is currently assessed as a risk to women will not go into the female estate.”

Ms Medhurst also said that any history of violence against women and girls will be taken into account as part of the process, while anyone whose history is not known will remain in the male estate until a risk assessment can be undertaken.

Asked if the risk assessment process being “subjective” could result in some women being put at risk, the chief executive said the process was “very well-tested within the Scottish Prison Service”.

There are no plans to create a separate unit for trans women within the male prison estate, Ms Medhurst said, adding that there could be risks of isolation and further vulnerability given the small numbers of transgender prisoners.

“I undertook a case review, as I committed to earlier in the year, and I’m satisfied that all transgender women and all transgender men currently in the Scottish Prison Service are housed in the most safe locations possible,” she said.