Issue 330, Friday 27 June 2008 - 24 Jumad al-Akhbar 1423
'Muslim gangs' in Whitemoor prison cause unease
By Zainab Hemani
A report by the Prison Service�s directorate of high security on the alleged suicides of five inmates at Whitemoor between 2006 and 2007 has concluded that Muslims at one of Britain�s top-security jails are forming gangs �leading to anxiety and apprehension among some staff.�
According to the leaked report given to the Howard League for Penal Reform, 28 per cent of the 500 inmates in the prisons are Muslim. The report also says that, �There was much talk around the establishment about �the Muslims�. Some staff perceived the situation at Whitemoor had resulted in Muslim prisoners becoming more of a gang than a religious group. The sheer numbers, coupled with a lack of awareness among staff, appeared to be engendering fear and handing control to the prisoners. There is a danger of this leading to hostility and Islamophobia if it is not addressed.�
The internal Prison Service review continued by saying that, �This leads to a general feeling of lack of control and shifting the power dynamic towards prisoners. Staff appeared reluctant to challenge inappropriate behaviour, in particular among black and minority ethnic prisoners, for fear of doing the wrong thing. There is a danger of this leading to hostility and Islamophobia if it is not addressed.�
The report also highlights fears of a loss of discipline among staff and claims long-serving prison officers thought that standards had fallen. It recommended an �intelligence assessment of the Muslim prisoner group of concern and their possible activities� and �more cultural awareness and diversity training.�A Prison Service spokesperson told The Muslim News, �In January 2008 the Governor of HMP Whitemoor requested that a Prison Service support team visit the prison to review the safeguarding systems in place. A number of measures are planned to take forward the recommendations made by the review team.
�A programme of work is planned at Whitemoor to increase mutual understanding between staff and prisoners, including a development day for staff on the Muslim faith, focus groups in which staff and ethnic minority prisoners will discuss prison community issues, and diversity events run by staff and prisoners.�
The prison will continue to work closely with the Prison Service�s Extremism Unit and the police to �monitor and assess issues around extremism, and work will be undertaken to examine the management of gangs and terrorist prisoners within the prison.�
About the gangs, she added, �We recognise that gang associations are an issue in prisons, including the high security estate. The Prison Service is actively working with partner agencies to manage operational and strategic issues around extremist prisoners, ensuring that they are dealt with in such a way as to maximise public protection.�
She said that all Muslim Chaplains are provided with appropriate training, including a recent weekend seminar that looked at security, extremism, gang culture, and re-settlement issues. She refused to comment however, on how the report was leaked to Howard League for Penal Reform.
Assistant Director Andrew Neilson said, �One of the things the report does flag up is that low grade prison officers feel unable to confront with Muslim prisoners. And therefore they�re not really aware whether these are criminal gangs - or criminal gangs with a darker side where radicalisation is also going on.� http://www.muslimnews.co.uk/paper/index ... ticle=3556