Our third report, Time to End the Silence: the experience of Muslims in the prison system, shows in stark detail how Muslims in prison face racism which obstructs them from practising their religion and prevents them from accessing vital services such as mental health programmes.
The report begins with a story about Ramadan and an alarm clock. This captures perfectly the experience of Muslims in the criminal justice system. It shows a lack of understanding of religious needs and the negative impact this ignorance can have on Muslim prisoners. This story shows the effects of power and ignorance and what it means to have your basic human rights denied.
The report is funded by Barrow Cadbury Trust and we have received further funding from the latter foundation and Lloyds Foundation to continue our work.
The number of Muslim prisoners has more than doubled over the past 17 years. In 2002 there were 5,502 Muslims in prison, by 2019 this had risen to 13,341. According to government figures 40% are Asian, 29% are black, 16% are white and 9% are mixed.
As a significant proportion of Muslim prisoners are from a BAME* background, they are potentially more at risk from contracting coronavirus in the crowded and often unsanitary conditions of a prison.
*For the purposes of this report we use the term ‘BAME’ to refer to communities of colour in the criminal justice system. This is to be consistent with the terminology used in the Lammy and Young reviews, by criminal justice agencies and most stakeholders that work in or around the criminal justice system. However we recognise that this shorthand does not sufficiently reflect the diversity of those who would fall under this umbrella label. This in itself is part of the problem with how we understand and are able
to analysis the diverse experiences of those in the criminal justice system. The data that stems from this label does not reflect the reality of diversity and it adds to the silence around communities of colour in the criminal justice system.
These statistics are concerning but so far insufficient data has been collected to understand the reasons behind this increase. It begs the question: why has no analysis taken place to understand this disproportionality? Muslims, as well as BAME men and women in prison, often describe their experience in prison and relationships with staff more negatively in comparison to white groups. A significant number of Muslim men report:
NOT RECEIVING BASIC CARE
NOT BEING TREATED RESPECTFULLY BY STAFF
NOT BEING ABLE TO TURN TO STAFF FOR HELP
NOT EASILY BEING ABLE TO RECEIVE OR SEND
PARCELS OR LETTERS
NOT EASILY BEING ABLE TO MAKE COMPLAINTS
What We Did
This report is based on a mixture of long interviews, focus groups, and observation conducted with those in custody and outside the prison estate. The interviews were with Muslim men and women who had experienced the criminal justice system as well as staff at Samaritans, Pact, the Prisoners’ Education Trust and Switchback.
We also spoke to a number of academics and criminologists and other organisations and individuals who work in the voluntary sector and have specialist knowledge and experience of issues affecting BAME and Muslim communities. We conducted focus groups in 4 prisons as well as interviews with Muslim men and women who had served custodial sentences across an additional 10 prisons.
The report is divided into three themes: Religion, Risk, and Trust. It also contains a foreword from the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.
Aliyah Hasinah’s poem, I’d Like to Believe, runs through our podcast, which accompanies this report. As well as hearing the experience of Muslim men who have been in prison and the obstacles they face in practising Islam, the poetry adds a creative and emotional perspective that is often missing from traditional, institutionalised frameworks of analysis.