Prison officers fear that Muslim inmates are turning to extremism

Staff at a top security jail fear Muslim inmates are pressurising other Muslim prisoners to adopt extremist views and encouraging other offenders to convert to Islam, according to an inspection report published today.

Prison officers at Whitemoor jail also feared growing radicalisation and conversions among the 395 inmates, of whom almost one third were Muslims.

On one wing at the jail staff admitted that Muslim inmates “policed themselves”, the report said.

One inmate claimed to inspectors that inmates are converting to Islam because they want protection and that Muslim gangs in the jail provide it.

Anne Owers, the chief inspector of prisons, urges the prison service to do more to provide staff throughout the jail system but particularly in the top security prisons with help to deal with increasing Muslim numbers.

The number of Muslim prisoners in jails doubled in the ten years to 2006 to reach 8,243 – 11 per cent of the total prison population.

Ms Owers said the top security prisons are facing increased risks involving more gang activity, more young men serving long sentences and a small number of men convicted of terrorist offences.

She said Whitemoor jail at March in Cambridgeshire had faced a sudden expansion in black and ethnic minority prisoners to reach 150, of whom 120 were Muslims.

A committee had been created to advise on action to deal with possible gang, terrorist or extremist activity at the prison even though only 8 of the Muslim prisoners had been convicted of terrorist offences.

“Despite these strong central systems, residential staff were mostly unaware of these initiatives. They expressed a fear of what they saw as a rising problem of prisoner radicalisation and an increase in Muslim conversion”, the chief inspector’s report said.

Staff were unsure about how to treat Muslim inmates other than as potential security risks. The report said officers were reluctant to engage with inmates and deliberately kept their distance from them because they feared they would be “conditioned” by prisoners.

“Some staff appeared reluctant to engage with Muslim prisoners, and the little information and training they had received about Muslim prisoners was related to monitoring them as potential threats to national security, which inevitably impinged on the way they interacted with them.”, the report said.

It added:”Prisoners said that staff attitudes towards them changed markedly for the worse if they chose to, or happened to, associate with those prisoners.

“There was a perception among officers that some Muslim prisoners operated as a gang and put pressures on non-Muslim prisoners to converrt, and on other Muslim prisoners to conform to a strict and extreme interpretation of Islamic practice.

“However, there was a reluctance to engage with Muslim prisoners and challenge inappropriate behaviour. An officer on one wing said that Muslim prisoners ’policed themselves’ and that others in the staff group agreed”.

Describing the gang culture at the jail, one inmate said:”On the main wing it is Muslim vs whites. Staff are worried as what will they do when it all goes mainstream. They are beginning to outnumber everyone and don’t care – all this radicalisation and they’re extremely violent slashing people”.

Another prisoner said:”The new gang are the Muslims. The Muslim group is the big group and others are looking for protectionn. Those who are isolated are looking for protection and so are the ones converting as they won’t get help from screws (prison officers).

Ms Owers report said resettlement work had improved along with activities available to prisoners but she said the jail still faced challenges.

Phil Wheatley, director general of the National Offender Management Service, said: “The Chief Inspector is right to highlight the challenges and risks Whitemoor is facing. It is also important to recognise the action being taken to manage challenging prisoner profiles.

“A more sophisticated approach to addressing bullying and the management of bullies and their victims is now in place and is bringing improvements.

“Work to improve the relationships between staff and prisoners is a priority and measures have been implemented to tackle this, including training to develop staff understanding of the growing Muslim population”.



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