Discourse

Scotland moves to make sex-segregated prisons a thing of the past

Could it be that sex is the only dividing line which makes any sense, and that gender identity is inimical to sound policymaking?

Erin Perse London, UK
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The Scottish Government continues its descent into authoritarian and undemocratic practices with Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf's latest gaffe over queering the sex-segregated prison estate. He is responsible for ensuring Scottish prisoners are safe.

On January 17, 2020, before the Covid pandemic crisis hit public authorities, Yousaf made the startling claim on social media that a number of females who identified as men were being accommodated in men’s prisons, on conviction for criminal offenses.

On 20 January, in Parliamentary questions, Yousaf reiterated the claim with different nuance on the first and second answers:

“One transman has been moved from the men’s estate to the women’s. However, this relocation was not aligned with their expressed desire.”

“One transman, currently residing in the women’s estate, has previously requested to be accommodated in the men’s estate.”

Given that solitary confinement is deemed cruel and unusual punishment under human rights laws, he could not have meant that a female prisoner would be incarcerated alone as a protective measure against the types of sexual violence men can only commit against women, that is people with female reproductive anatomy.

Yousaf appeared to be saying that, in Scotland, females were already sharing prison cells with males, an administrative decision which could never be defensible or correct on any grounds whatsoever, and which would clearly vitiate the female prisoner’s sex-based rights, whether or not she personally understood the purpose and value of those rights.

Concerned citizens began to make Freedom of Information requests asking questions. When did the prison service start placing females in the male prison estate? What prisoner safeguarding policies were put in place? What evidence informed those policies? What measures of success were in place? How was the situation monitored?

Instead of the usual response, the Scottish government refused to answer any of the questions. When requested to review their decision not to answer, the government refused to review. In both instances, they declined to give any reasons for refusal.

Multiple FOIs by different people received answers: one claimed that one transman was incarcerated in Scotland, but in the female estate; another claiming that the one incarcerated transman had been moved from the male to the female estate; another still that there were no transmen in the male estate.

Seemingly there was a transman in prison, in Scotland, who wanted to be accommodated with men, contrary to the interests of their physical safety. One might also speculate that the government were fearful of backlash and litigation from the trans lobby, for whom the only ‘win’ would be for a female to be housed in the men’s estate—even though that would nearly certainly mean she would be subject to sexual violence.

For trans activists—who are not known for their compassion, reasonableness or realism—such an unconscionable scenario would represent a triumph of gender identity ideology over material reality.

We might also speculate that this transman's case will have shown the Scottish government the fatal flaws in its gender identity-based, sex-denying policy regime. We would hope that a competent, accountable, properly functioning government would learn something from it, and act to reverse the harms caused by denying the social salience of sex in public provisions.

What does Yousaf’s bizarrely intransigent claim, and the subsequent administrative stonewalling reveal? If a government minister feels on solid ground making bizarre claims about important parts of his portfolio, and—when called to account for the bizarre claim–the government feels on equally solid ground in making no effort whatsoever to justify its actions.

These are the kinds of behaviours you would expect from an arrogant one-party state, in which there is no effective opposition to provide checks and balances to administrative excess and error. This is the same government currently under fire from every conceivable corner of civil society for proposing new hate crime legislation which would obliterate what remains of free expression.

Gender identity ideology is not a solid, evidence-based foundation for changing public policy. It is an off-the-wall belief system which results in absurdities such as a justice minister publicly proclaiming that it’s right and just to send a female to a men’s prison.

Rhona Hotchkiss, a former prison governor, said that even as an expert and Scottish National Party member, she as stonewalled by the justice ministry. The government is incapable of listening to critical friends who try to point out the confusion and absurdity which follows from basing public policy on gender identity instead of sex.

Strangely, Yousaf seems to understand the issue of women’s safety from male violence when it comes to trafficked women, whom he believes should not have to share accommodation with men.

Yet, when it comes to placing transmen in a men’s prison, and trans-identified males in a women’s prison, he sees no logical inconsistency at all.

Transmen are not men. They have female reproductive biology, whichever pronouns they prefer, whatever prescription drugs they take. The authorities are duty-bound to do what is in their best interests, whether or not they “desire” to be safe from male violence.

The baseline reality of sex is dissolved by transgender ideology, leading its believers into the most bizarre self-contradictions and blind spots. To house a transman in a men’s prison is, simply, to enable rape, for which the prison service would then be legally liable.

Frances Crook of the Howard League for Penal Reform said what is obvious to ordinary people with no need to gather woke cookies, namely that “the process [of gender self-identification] is inherently discriminatory. A woman identifying as a man could not be transferred to a man’s jail because placing a person with female attributes into a prison to live with 1,000 men, all using communal showers and living areas, would put them in serious danger.”

The way the justice minister handled the issue of the transman prisoner begs the obvious question: if it is feasible to make a men’s prison “safe” for a female, why is it unfeasible to make it safe for transwomen—males who identify as women—who are instead accommodated with vulnerable women prisoners?

Could it be that sex is the only dividing line which makes any sense, and that gender identity is inimical to sound policymaking?

Yousaf looks likely to be remembered not for being the capable public servant who solved the mess caused in the prison system, and women's services, by gender identity policies, but the man who—through hubris, or ambition, or a combination of both—presided over the avoidable sexual abuse of women due to those policies.

Either Yousaf is simply out of his depth in the role of justice secretary, or the Scottish government itself has grown dishonest and dangerous. Its slippery and evasive manner of avoiding accountability suggests that it has gone fully authoritarian, and gives no heed to dissenting voices, opting instead to hand wave and gaslight all opposition at every turn.

Either way, it is Scottish women who are bearing the brunt of the nationalist government’s mounting catalogue of errors.

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