Report highlights dangers over Muslim prisoners

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The Independent Online

Prisons could fuel extremism among Muslim inmates unless staff worked harder to integrate them, a report warns today.

An approach where all Muslims are treated as potential terrorists risks being a "self-fulfilling prophecy", the Chief Inspector of Prisons Dame Anne Owers said. In a report focusing on the experiences of Muslim offenders, she said prisons had come a "considerable distance" in improving facilities for different faith groups.

"It would be naive 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," she said. "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 (Noms) 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."

The report, Muslim Prisoners' Experiences, found there are around 10,300 Muslims in prisons around England and Wales. It said that despite the jailing of several high-profile terrorist suspects, fewer than one in 100 Muslim inmates have been convicted of terrorism.

Officials found Muslim prisoners have a more negative experience of prison than others, often because of fears for their safety. They also reported Islam played a positive and rehabilitative role in the lives of many prisoners despite staff being suspicious of religious acts.

Juliet Lyon, of the Prison Reform Trust, said Muslim prisoners were "too often" seen as potential extremists in the making. "By focusing solely on Muslim prisoners as potential or actual extremists, there is a real risk that the prison service's approach becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy," she said.

"Without proper support all prisoners, regardless of their race or religious background, are likely to become disaffected from society."