Muslim Prisoners on the Rise – What can Imams do?

muslim prisonThere is a surge in the number of Muslim prisoners.

In 2002, 5,502 prisoners in England and Wales said they were Muslim.

Three years later, the number had risen to 7,246 and almost a decade on, by December 2014, it had reached 12,225.

Indeed, prisoner numbers have risen from an average of 70,778 in 2002 to 84,691 last December.

But that 20% increase in the jail population has been outstripped by the rise in Muslim inmates – up 122%.

One possible explanation for the rise is that there are now more Muslims in the general population.

In the 2001 census, 3% of people in England and Wales said they were Muslim – 1.55 million.

By 2011, that had gone up to 4.8 % – 2.7 million people – you would expect the Muslim numbers go up.

Not Extremists

But the percentage rise in Muslim prisoner numbers has been far greater than the Muslim population increase: Muslim inmates now account for 14.4% of those behind bars, compared with 7.7 % in 2002.

The media focus on terrorism might lead some to think that the Muslim prisoner population increase is linked to convictions of Islamist extremists.

But the figures don’t bear that out either.

Ministry of Justice data shows that between October 2012 and January 2015, there were 104 Muslims out of 178 prisoners who’d been jailed for “terrorism-related offences where the motivation stemmed from extreme ideology” – less than 1% of the total Muslim prisoner population.

A Ministry of Justice analysis in 2013 suggested that a significant minority, 30%, of Muslim prisoners weren’t British – last year the top 10 overseas nationalities included inmates from two predominantly Muslim countries: 522 from Pakistan, 417 from Somalia.

It does lend some support to the theory that as the UK’s ethnic and population mix has changed, driven by rising levels of immigration, travel from abroad and births to foreign-born mothers, so the prison population has become more diverse, with greater numbers of Muslims.

Socio-economic factors

But there appear to be underlying reasons too.

In 2010, the then Chief Inspector of Prisons, Dame Anne Owers, published a report on Muslims in jail, in which she linked the growth in numbers to the age and socio-economic profiles of the Muslim population in general.

“Both are powerful predictors of involvement in the criminal justice system,” she wrote, “and Muslims in Britain have a notably younger age profile than non-Muslims and are more likely to come from lower socio-economic groups.”

Negative Stereotyping

In a major report last year, Lady Lola Young (Baroness of Hornsey) reached similar conclusions about the reasons for the disproportionate representation of Muslim men at all stages of the criminal justice system.

“They are more likely to be stopped and searched, more likely to plead not guilty and more likely to be tried.

“These disparities… are often part of a complex mix of educational, employment, health and social inequalities that have characterised many of their lives,” says Lady Young.

What can Imams do?

Each prison has a multi-faith chaplaincy team to meet all the needs of all faiths, including Muslims.

It is no doubt disappointing to see such an increase in the number of Muslim inmates within UK Prisons. The  question that needs to be asked is; ‘how can Mosques and Imams help the Muslim youth and prevent these numbers increasing?’

Mosques & Imams need to be regularly engaging with youth by providing support networks & guidance counselling. Imams need to be providing more engaging talks, especially during Friday prayers highlighting the importance to do good & consequences of bad actions.

The Muslim community needs to do more in ensuring people are supported and prevent these prison numbers increasing.

Source: Danny Shaw (BBC News)

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