Prisoners should be safe 'regardless of gender', says Harris

Prisoners should be safe 'regardless of gender', says Harris

'There is no circumstance, regardless of gender, where anybody should be at risk of violence in a prison,' said Justice Minister Simon Harris. Picture date: Brian Lawless

The Irish Prison Service must prioritise the “safety and wellbeing” of prisoners, regardless of their gender, Justice Minister Simon Harris has said.

Mr Harris was speaking following comments made by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on Tuesday in relation to the possibility of violent transgender women being incarcerated in women's prisons.

Barbie Kardashian, 21, was jailed for five and a half years earlier this week, with the final 12 months suspended, for threatening to torture, rape, and kill her mother. She is understood to be in isolation in Limerick Prison.

In 2020, Kardashian was granted a gender recognition certificate, recognising her as female, by the Department of Social Protection.

The court heard Ms Kardashian is currently on a waiting list to be assessed for “appropriate medical treatment”.

Leo Varadkar said Ireland may have to review its laws in relation to trans people in custody.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos

Asked whether he thinks violent biological men should be put in women’s prisons, the Taoiseach said: “No, I don’t, quite frankly.” 

If the situation that arose in Scotland has now arisen in Ireland, well then we’re going to have to deal with it in a similar way,” he said.

Earlier this year, controversy emerged in Scotland regarding Isla Bryson, a transgender woman who had been convicted of raping two women before transitioning.

The 31-year-old rapist was convicted in late January and sent to Scotland's only all-female facility to be held in segregation before sentencing.

Following a public outcry, Bryson was moved to the male prison and an urgent review was commissioned.

The Taoiseach said he would speak to Mr Harris, saying “we may have to consider” changing the law so that “women are protected”.

Asked about the issue on Wednesday, Education Minister Norma Foley said she agreed with the Taoiseach.

'Safety and wellbeing'

Mr Harris was also asked if he agreed that violent biological men should not be in female prisons.

He said: “What I took from the Taoiseach’s comments is that there is no circumstance, regardless of gender, where anybody should be at risk of violence in a prison.

“The most important thing for the Irish Prison Service to do in any scenario is to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all prisoners and officers and staff.

“I want to absolutely assure people today that the individual risk assessments that are carried out on all prisoners, regardless of gender, is of paramount importance in relation to this, because I can't comment on individual prisoner situations for obvious reasons."

He said the Irish Prison Service was "currently finalising" a policy in relation to transgender prisoners, that would be informed by best international practice.

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