The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) will launch a consultation on updating its policy for transgender people, following Scottish Ministers’ move to make it easier for trans prisoners to prove their gender identity.
The policy refresh aims to address proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act 2004. The current Act states that people in the UK have to be over 18 and apply to a panel if they want to change gender.
Scottish Government ministers want to simplify the process, which has been described as “intrusive and onerous”.
They have proposed removing the need for applicants to provide medical evidence of gender change, the requirement to have lived in their new gender for two years, and reducing the minimum age at which people can legally change their gender to 16.
It is also proposed that Scotland will become the first part of the UK to legally recognise a third gender, for people who do not identify as either male or female, but wish to be recognised as non-binary.
The SPS say the consultation will be wider than any previous one.
A spokesman said: “One of the groups we will be particularly keen to consult is the female prison population, who have not been specifically consulted about this before.”
“There is an obvious interest and locus for those individuals.”
A previous consultation on these proposals, which the-then Equalities Secretary Angela Constance described as being about treating transgender and non-binary people with dignity, fairness and respect, brought 15,000 responses.
Around 65 per cent of Scottish respondents to the consultation wanted Ministers to take action to recognise non-binary people. 56 per cent of respondents said they backed a new self-declaration system that does away with the need for medical involvement.
The SPS’s existing policy was published in 2014 in partnership with the Scottish Trans Alliance (STA), which welcomed the proposed changes.
As we have gone through the process since the introduction of the first policy we have noticed what can be improved. For instance, four years ago there wasn’t much known about non-binary, and as more people are now identifying as non-binary that is a bit of a gap. James Morton, Scottish Trans Alliance
“We’ve been asking the SPS to update its policy for a while,” said STA manager James Morton.
“As we have gone through the process since the introduction of the first policy we have noticed what can be improved. For instance, four years ago there wasn’t much known about non-binary, and as more people are now identifying as non-binary that is a bit of a gap.”
“We fully support any consultation on any equality issue. In the past, there maybe wasn’t much interest in engaging, but that is changing,” Morton said.
“There is a wide range of different justice organisations and women’s organisations that we would want to be involved. It is important that as many people as possible engage with it.”
The number of transgender prisoners has risen from six, recorded on 1 April 2016, to 13 on 1 April 2018. At the time of writing, there are 20 transgender people in prison in Scotland.
Fifteen of them are transwomen (someone assigned as male at birth but identifying and living as a woman), six of whom are held in female accommodation and nine in male accommodation.
Of the transmen prisoners (assigned female at birth but identifying and living as a man), there is one person in the male estate and four in the female estate.
As well as involving prisoners and external interest groups, the consultation – led by the SPS Equalities and Diversity team – will include SPS staff, who must follow agreed policies for searching prisoners and managing their custody in ways that are fair, non-discriminatory and promote dignity and respect.
A spokesman for SPS said: “We will be speaking to all the interest groups that we can. It will be a wider consultation than any we have undertaken in the past.
“There is a range of groups representing people with views on this issue, and it is only right that we look at how to consult on all those views”, he continued.
“We believe it will be the biggest exercise of its kind and we intend to involve as many possible.”
The SPS has rejected calls for separate transgender prison wings. The total female prison population in Scotland currently numbers 385. Of them, the majority are held at HMP Edinburgh and HMP Polmont; around 80 women are in HMP Cornton Vale in Stirling, while HMP Greenock and HMP Grampian house approximately 50 women each.
Work on the SPS transgender consultation is expected to start early in the New Year.
Photo thanks to torbakhopper, CC BY-SA 2.0.