Scotland’s Justice Secretary has said there are safeguards now in place to stop trans prisoners with a history of violence against women being put in female jails.
Angela Constance made the comments as she was shown around the £85.7 million HMP Stirling on Thursday, with the women-only facility set to start housing people from the summer.
HMP Stirling will replace HMP Cornton Vale where double rapist Isla Bryson was originally sent after being convicted. Bryson was later transferred to the male estate.
The prison will be home to about 100 inmates, and those behind the Stirling facility said it has been designed with a trauma-informed approach, which takes account of gender, to better help rehabilitate those who are sent there.
It will replace HMP Cornton Vale, which was the centre of national media attention this year after double rapist Isla Bryson, 35, was sent to the prison after being convicted.
But, on Thursday, Ms Constance said that “right now we have very important safeguards in place” to protect women in jails.
“That means that no transgender prisoner with a history of violence or sexual offending against women can be placed in the women’s estate,” she said.
“We will always continue to review safeguards because the Scottish Prison Service has a responsibility to the safety and wellbeing of all prisoners, including their staff.”
Bryson, who raped two women when known as Adam Graham, was in the women-only prison for two days before being moved to HMP Edinburgh after uproar.
Concerns have also been raised about where Andrew Miller, 53, who last week admitted abducting a primary school aged girl while dressed as a woman before sexually assaulting her, will serve a sentence.
First Minister Humza Yousaf last week said that Miller, who is in the process of transitioning, is being held in the male prison estate.
HMP Stirling, which will also be a young offenders institute, includes areas to support women needing more intensive mental health support, a separation and re-integration unit, a progression unit, a mother and baby unit, and an assessment centre.
It has smaller accommodation areas, and the SPS said there was evidence to suggest they were more effective in achieving better outcomes for women.
Ms Constance said: “This is a world class facility that will provide world-leading care to women who are sentenced to custody.
“It has all the right services and the right environment and the right equipment to do better by women to improve their prospects of rehabilitation and reintegration into the community.”
But replacing the women-only prison has cost millions more than planned, taking it over its initial £74 million budget.
HMP Stirling was also originally planned to be operational by the end of 2020.
Allister Purdie, director of operations at the prison service, said the prison was under construction when the pandemic struck in 2020, with that causing delays as well as increases in the cost of materials.
Mr Purdie, who has been the operations director for more than three years, said putting the final touches on the facility was a “milestone” for the service.
“It’s a real significant day because this is part of our journey about moving forward the women’s agenda and the women’s strategy in Scotland, and a real different model of how we manage women in Scotland,” he said.
Mr Purdie said it fulfils the recommendations made in 2012 that there should be a “smaller, more established, more focused establishment” which worked with women in a “different way that allowed us to get underneath real complex issues that women had, who were coming into custody and to be able to break that cycle of offending”.
He said by the late summer it will be around half its capacity, and added: “Then we’ll start to filter in people from the courts and other establishments.
“And that’s really because some of the women have really difficult and complex needs. We just can’t fill them up in huge numbers.”
He said it would be be built up to full capacity towards the end of the year.
It is the only women-only prison north of the border, and will hold the majority of female prisoners. Some women prisoners are also held at HMP Edinburgh, HMP Greenock, and HMP Grampian.
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