Oral Replies to Parliamentary Questions

Oral Reply to Parliamentary Question on Housing Transgender Persons in Prison

Published: 07 November 2023


Mr Murali Pillai: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs what is the Ministry’s approach towards the housing of transgender persons in prison settings in Singapore, having regard to the recent situation in Scotland where a transgender person, convicted of double rape of women, was initially housed in segregation in an all-female jail.


Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law:

1. The case that Mr Pillai refers to involved a Scottish male sex offender called Isla Bryson. Isla Bryson was undergoing hormonal treatment at the time of his conviction to transition to a female.

2. In January of this year, 2023, Bryson was convicted of raping two women. At the time of conviction, Bryson’s self-identified gender was female. However, his registered sex was male and he still had male genitalia. Bryson was remanded in a women’s prison while awaiting his sentence. That was done based on the Scottish Prison Services’ policy, which determines housing arrangements based on an inmate’s “new gender”. 

3. The prospect of a convicted male rapist serving a sentence in a women’s prison sparked public debate and also concerns about the safety of the other prisoners. In response, Bryson was moved to a male prison facility. 

4. In Singapore, our primary consideration is the safety of the inmates. As a rule, inmates are housed in a male or female institution based on their registered sex, and not their self-identified gender. 

5. There may be situations, however, where it may be better not to house an inmate with other inmates of their registered sex for considerations of safety – either for the safety of the inmate, or the safety of the other inmates. For example, a male inmate who is transitioning and who has developed female features, such as breasts, it may not be completely safe for this inmate to be housed together with other male inmates. On the other hand, inmates in a female institution may not feel comfortable if we house with them, a former male who has just completed transitioning to be a female, especially like in the case of Bryson, the person had previously committed sexual offences. So in such cases, we may house them alone, in individual cells within the institution of their registered sex, or in a shared cell with other inmates who are in the same situation. 

6. There may also be situations where inmates, during medical examination, upon admission, are found to have external genitalia different from their registered sex. In such cases, Prisons may first house them alone in individual cells in the institution of their registered sex. Prisons will then facilitate an examination by a medical specialist to assess if they have had a complete physical change in genitalia, and if so, will assist the inmate to update their registered sex with ICA. This follows ICA’s requirements that a person’s sex change must first be verified by a local relevant medical specialist, before ICA updates the registered sex of the person in its database.