July 4, 2023 - 7:00am

No man should ever be housed in a women’s prison. It’s essential to restate this principle before people start drawing the wrong conclusion about the alleged abuse of a transgender prisoner at a jail in Scotland. Isla Bryson, a double rapist who enjoys the dubious distinction of being the UK’s most high-profile trans inmate, complained at the weekend about being the subject of “transphobic abuse” at HMP Edinburgh.

In a letter to the Sunday Mail, Bryson claims that the prison is “full of transphobic people” and says “I’m not doing too good” because of abuse from staff and other prisoners. Police Scotland states that a 24-year-old man has been charged in connection with threatening and abusive behaviour, but nothing else is known about the circumstances.

Bryson is, of course, the prisoner whose trial caused uproar in January, and his case is regarded as a contributing factor in Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation as First Minister. Bryson committed the rapes while living as a man, Adam Graham, and his appearance in court under a female name created headlines containing risible phrases such as “her penis”

Scottish politicians who enthusiastically supported the SNP’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill squirmed when asked whether Bryson was really trans or gaming the system in order to be sent to a women’s prison in Stirling. He spent one night in the women’s estate before being moved to Edinburgh, where the alleged abuse took place.

I’m sure prison isn’t a pleasant experience for Bryson, but that’s squarely the fault of the Scottish Prison Service (SPS). It was one of the earliest scalps for trans activists, who were involved in writing policy on trans prisoners as early as 2011. What they came up with completely ignored the wishes and welfare of women, insisting that inmates should be housed in a prison that suits “the gender in which the person in custody is currently living”. Even the most minimal protection for female prisoners, such as putting male-bodied inmates in single cells, “should be avoided wherever possible”.

The likely outcome was obvious: male sex offenders only had to “identify” as women and they would be housed in a women’s prison, where female inmates would be forced to share showers, toilets and recreation areas with them. To add insult to injury, the policy went on to say that trans inmates should be allowed access to prosthetics, chest-binders and wigs to help them “express their gender identity”. 

The policy came into effect nine years ago but it took the spectacle of Bryson, turning up at court in a blond wig and tight leggings, to make the public sit up and take notice. What we’re witnessing now is the abject failure of the SPS to rethink its policy once its ludicrous trans-inclusive experiment fell apart. The argument for a separate wing for trans-identifying inmates has always been compelling — but repeatedly rejected by trans activists and prison services.

Female prisoners should never have been used as human shields to protect trans-identified males from other men. Bryson is a convicted sex offender, serving an eight-year sentence, and his complaints are not an argument for moving him to a women’s prison. They are, however, an illustration of the folly of allowing public policy to be influenced by gender warriors, with dire results for both women and trans-identified prisoners.

Joan Smith is a novelist and columnist. She has been Chair of the Mayor of London’s Violence Against Women and Girls Board since 2013. Her book Homegrown: How Domestic Violence Turns Men Into Terrorists was published in 2019.