There has been a disproportionate rise in young Muslim men in the criminal justice system with the number doubling over the past 10 years. Although Muslim communities roughly make up 5% of the general population in England and Wales, they make up 15% of the prison population. Our reports have also highlighted the discrimination that exists within the criminal justice system and how this particularly manifests itself if you are Muslim.
According to a recent review led by David Lammy MP, this dramatic rise in the number of prisoners is not linked to terrorism offences, as on average, very few people are convicted of these offences each year. Just 175 Muslims were convicted of terrorism-related offences between 2001 and 2012. However, because the rest of the CJS does not ask or record the same information as the prison system, we know far too little about what has been driving this trend.
What we do know, and this is supported by the Lammy Review, is that there is evidence of differential treatment. For example, analysis of sentencing data from 2015 shows that at the Crown Court, BAME defendants were more likely than White defendants to receive prison sentences for drug offences, even when factors such as past convictions are taken into account.
We are advocating for a more sophisticated approach to understanding the needs of Muslim men and women in the system which will lead to better designed and delivered public services and ultimately a justice system that does not discriminate on the basis of religion or ethnicity. We also believe that central to this journey is ensuring that the voices of those have been through the criminal justice are heard and their expertise is recognised.