No males in women’s jails – letter to Lothian MSPS

by | 19 Feb 2024

Dear Lothian MSPs 

I am writing to draw to your attention my objections to the SPS reinstating the shameful policy of admitting male prisoners into the female estate. My colleague and fellow constituent Lucy Hunter Blackburn has already written to you about this. “Next week, the Scottish Prison Service will introduce a policy which replaces the interim arrangements put in place following the Bryson/Graham case, and gives it more freedom to move male prisoners into women’s prisons. It is in essence a return to what was in place pre- Bryson/Graham, except that – on the one hand – male prisoners with a history of sexual and violent offending against women which is known to the authorities will be less likely to be moved (but still not wholly barred) and – on the other – even those male prisoners regarded as not fit to move full-time will now be permitted a “day pass” system, to be placed among women in prison at certain times. The current system which requires moves to be signed off by Ministers will be removed. Data on the number of moves will cease to be made public. Women in prison are known to be hugely vulnerable and disproportionately victims of abusive male behaviour. The SPS already manages some – at times, it has been most – male prisoners who identify as women safely within the male estate. Most male offending against women goes unreported. When I was Head of the Reducing Reoffending Division in the Scottish Government, one of the SPS’s foremost experts in managing sex offenders at the time told me they are among the most manipulative group of offenders. It is extraordinary that the SPS now believes it can accurately “risk assess” any man’s risk of dangerous behaviour – whether physical or psychological – towards women. It is even more extraordinary that the SPS does not understand that, for many of the women in its care, simply being asked to live alongside a male person, however they identify, will substantially increase her sense of threat. The SPS has already made it clear that it believes that men convicted of murder, torture and other violence who have adopted a female identity post- incarceration can deserve to be housed among women. The policy has evidently been designed to allow it to leave its past decisions to place some such men in women’s prisons undisturbed. If this policy were to be challenged by a woman prisoner under Article 3 of the ECHR ( the absolute right not to be subject to “inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”) it is far from clear it would survive. But MSPs, safe and appointed to hold government to account, should not be looking to women in prison to bring legal cases to protect their human rights, and increase their vulnerability and stress in doing so. Please lobby Angela Constance this week to tell SPS not to press the button on this policy, and to leave the interim arrangements in place until the protection of women prisoners’ basic human rights has been given due weight in policy here. At least, please place on the record your objection to this unnecessary and ill-judged change being triggered.

I endorse all of Lucy Hunter Blackburn’s comments and her plea for you to lobby Angela Constance against allowing this policy to be implemented. You will no doubt have read of the reports of women being terrified of the men who have been placed with them. Most of the women in prison have suffered from male violence. The presence of men in women’s prisons is an unacceptable breach of the law, and of women’s rights to safe and dignified care while they are on remand or serving sentences.  

Women require a very different regime to men in prison. The presence of men in the women’s estate means that more male officers are needed in order to ensure good order and discipline. It requires greater security and less time out of their cells. This is the opposite of the recommendations of the Angiolini and previous reports about the needs of women in prison.

The SPS should not be allowed to deny women the right to safe and dignified care, or to deny their female staff safety and dignity in their work in order to satisfy the demands of male offenders who should be in the male estate. 

Maggie Mellon


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