Prison cells in most Western countries are disproportionately occupied by Muslims. This is especially true in Europe, where Muslim inmates are incarcerated at eight, ten, or twelve times the rate that would otherwise be expected, based on their numbers in the general population.
Western leaders and policy-makers are well aware of this fact. Because political correctness is the order of the day, Muslim over-representation in the penal system must first of all be explained away — their presence in prison is due to poverty, cultural differences, racism, and, above all, the pervasive discrimination by the native population against the hated “other”. What other explanation could there be?
The second problem is what to do about it. Early release, increased discretion for police or judicial authorities, the easing of standards for young Muslim offenders — all of these can be (and have been) used to try to lower the relative proportion of Muslim inmates and allow the authorities to pretend that Islamic criminals are not really that much of a problem.
Anne Owers, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons in the United Kingdom, has just released a report entitled “Muslim prisoners’ experiences: A thematic review”. The full report (pdf) is available, but I’ll focus here on the conclusions as outlined in the introduction.
A notable feature of this report is its preoccupation with how Muslim prisoners feel. This focus seems a bit odd — they are, after all, inmates of penal institutions. Their stay behind bars is intended both as a punishment and a temporary prevention of further lawbreaking during the period of their incarceration. The feelings of prisoners should be irrelevant — they’re inside, where they belong. Who cares how they feel?
Well, Her Majesty’s government cares very deeply about how Muslim prisoners feel; hence this report.
You’ll notice that Islamic ideology is not mentioned. Rather than jihad, “violent extremism” plays a prominent role, just as it does in the official analyses put out by the Obama administration and the FBI.
Not only that, but the Chief Inspector of Prisons is concerned that “prisons release into the community young men who are more likely to offend, or even embrace extremism” — in other words, if Muslims are radicalized in prison, it is the fault of those who put them there. Our harsh and unfair treatment of prisoners is what turns them into “violent extremists”.
“Muslim prisoners report more negatively on their prison experience”, so we need to concentrate on “meeting the religious needs of Muslims” to help ameliorate their “negative experiences and perceptions”. Our tasks include “identifying and preventing discrimination on grounds of religion” so that the “perceived disadvantage” of an Islamic background may be overcome.
The goal of the prison authorities is the “effective staff engagement with Muslims as individual prisoners with specific risks and needs, rather than as part of a separate and troubling group”.
In other words, the success of the British prison system is based on how well it serves its Muslim prisoners, as measured by how those prisoners feel.
It is not based on the recidivism rate, or the prevention of future crime, or the remorse felt by the violent criminals who have been justly punished.
It is not dependent on how many criminal scum are locked away where they can no longer prey on law-abiding British citizens.
It is based solely on the reaction of the prisoners themselves.
Presumably the prisoners will display the greatest approval if their accommodations and privileges most closely resemble those of a five-star hotel. Or, even better, if they are never put in prison at all, but are allowed to continue their lavish taxpayer-funded lifestyles in state-subsidized housing while they engage in their customary criminal activities to their hearts’ content.
What better way to elicit a positive report on their prison experience than never to subject them to any prison experience whatsoever?
Below is the full text of the introduction to Ms. Owers’ report, with relevant phrases bolded:
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.
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Differential perceptions were widest in high security dispersal prisons, where the focus on security and extremism is sharpest. Three-quarters of Muslims had felt unsafe in these prisons, and this perception was strongly linked to mistrust of staff. In young offender institutions (YOIs), the differentials were less marked, and it was in one YOI that we found the only example of a tailored programme to assist staff understanding and promote prisoner engagement.
Race and ethnicity were important factors in Muslim prisoners’ negative experiences and perceptions. As in the prison population generally, white Muslims felt most positive, and black and mixed heritage Muslims least. Some of those interviewed focused on race as the determining factor in their treatment. However, within each of the four ethnic groups, religion added a further clear layer of perceived disadvantage: Muslims in each ethnic group reported significantly less positively than non-Muslims. This was less true for Asians than for other ethnic groups — and interviewees suggested that the others were not seen as ‘proper’ Muslims and treated with particular suspicion. Black and mixed heritage Muslims in general felt more alienated from staff.
Interviews showed that faith played a central role in Muslim prisoners’ lives, much more so than establishments often recognised. In spite of much greater attention to and awareness of religious needs, Muslims and chaplains reported limited understanding of the importance of religious books, prayer time and even halal food. Many Muslim prisoners also stressed the positive and rehabilitative role that Islam played in their lives, and the calm that religious observance could induce in a stressed prison environment. This was in marked contrast to the suspicion that religious observance, and particularly conversion or reversion, tended to produce among staff. Converts did, however, have mixed motives, which could include perceived dietary benefits, or protection within a group. Muslim chaplains recognised the need to provide particular support and teaching to a group that could be more easily misled, but lacked the time to do so. They also sometimes lacked the trust of alienated prisoners: a perverse consequence of chaplains’ greater integration into prison life.
A pervasive theme was the lack of support and training available to staff, outside briefings that related to violent extremism and radicalisation. Generic diversity training did not address the need. As a consequence, staff could either back off from confronting challenging behaviour, or challenge inappropriately. It was also noticeable in the survey that fewer Muslim prisoners than non-Muslims knew where to get help with resettlement issues.
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.
Anne Owers June 2010
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
I recommend reading the entire report (pdf). It’s 116 pages long, and contains the raw statistical data derived from surveys of Muslims in the British penal system.
However, the conclusions as outlined in the above introduction are the best the government can do. Muslims are being incarcerated at a record rate and radicalized in the prison system, and the only thing the authorities can think of is to be sensitive to their feelings and cater to their religious whims.
God help us all.
Hat tip: Heh. I can’t remember who sent this; it might have been JP. If I’m wrong, let me know.