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Monday, 14th June 2010

UK: Muslim prisoners’ experiences: A thematic review

Muslim prisoners’ experiences: A thematic review (PDF)
Source: HM Inspectorate of Prisons
From the Introduction:

There are around 10,300 Muslims in prisons in England and Wales: a number that has been growing steadily over recent years. There has been considerable public focus on them as potential extremists and on prisons as the place where they may become radicalised, often through conversion – even though fewer than 1% are in prison because of terrorist-related offences.

This report looks at the actual experience and perceptions of Muslim prisoners – using prisoner surveys and inspection reports over a three-year period, and supplementing this with in-depth interviews with a representative sample of 164 Muslim men in eight prisons and interviews with the Muslim chaplains there.
Muslims in prison are far from being a homogenous group. Some are birth Muslims, and others have converted. In prisoner surveys, 40% were Asian, 32% black, 11% white and 10% of mixed heritage. One of their main grievances was, however, that staff tended to think of them as a group, rather than as individuals, and too often through the lens of extremism and terrorism – whether that was to prevent, or to detect, those issues. It was also evident that events and perceptions outside prison, in the public and the media, directly affected relationships inside prisons.

The headline finding, from surveys and interviews, is that Muslim prisoners report more negatively on their prison experience, and particularly their safety and their relationship with staff, than other prisoners – this is even more pronounced than the discrepancy between the reported experiences of black and minority ethnic prisoners compared to white prisoners. The differential perception has slightly lessened over the last three years, but is still pronounced. On the positive side, Muslims were more likely than non-Muslims to report that their faith needs were met in prisons, reflecting the strengthening of the role of Muslim chaplains. Beneath those headlines, however, are some more complex findings....

This report shows that, though prisons have come a considerable distance in meeting the religious needs of Muslims, they are not yet effectively managing a complex and multi-dimensional population. There are two separate, and sometimes conflicting, approaches. The first, through the diversity lens, focuses on ensuring appropriate religious observance and identifying and preventing discrimination on grounds of religion. The second, through the lens of security, focuses solely on Muslims as potential or actual extremists. At present, the latter approach appears to be better resourced, better understood and more prevalent.

It would be naïve to deny that there are, within the prison population, Muslims who hold radical extremist views, or who may be attracted to them for a variety of reasons. But that does not argue for a blanket security-led approach to Muslim prisoners in general. It is essential that the National Offender Management Service develops a strategy, with support and training, for effective staff engagement with Muslims as individual prisoners with specific risks and needs, rather than as part of a separate and troubling group. Without that, there is a real risk of a self-fulfilling prophecy: that the prison experience will create or entrench alienation and disaffection, so that prisons release into the community young men who are more likely to offend, or even embrace extremism.


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