Staff unable to handle prison’s Muslim gangs, says report
Monday May 26 2008 http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2008/may/26/prisonsandprobation.religionSome Muslim Prisoners in Britain
There are now so many Muslims at one of Britain’s top-security jails that religious extremists have been able to form gangs inside that staff are ill-equipped to deal with, according to a confidential report.
The issue was raised in an internal review into Whitemoor prison, near March, Cambridgeshire, where 28% of the 500 inmates are Muslim.
The independent charity the Howard League for Penal Reform, which obtained a leaked copy of the report, said the inquiry indicated “extremely disturbing” problems that needed urgent attention.
The report, carried out by a 14-strong team from the Prison Service’s directorate of high security, was commissioned by Whitemoor governor Steve Rodford in January after five prisoners committed suicide at the jail between November 2006 and December 2007.
One key finding in the report was that the “very high Muslim population” at Whitemoor appeared to be “leading to anxiety and apprehension among some staff”. The report added: “There is a danger of this leading to hostility and Islamophobia if it is not addressed.”
It also said: “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.”
A spokeswoman for the Prison Service said yesterday that Whitemoor would continue to work closely with both the Prison Service’s extremism unit and the police to assess extremism issues. She said all new prison officers received material on extremism as part of their training and Muslim chaplains recently attended a seminar that examined security, extremism, gang culture and resettlement issues.
She added: “We recognise that gang associations are an issue in prisons. Local initiatives in place in high security prisons explore factors related to gang membership and a specific project is looking at how best to develop options based on understanding and sharing experiences.”
Frances Crook, director of the Howard League, said: “Much of what this internal report uncovers is extremely disturbing. It is vital that the problems uncovered at Whitemoor are addressed urgently