R000238528 – Muslims in prison
We might expect that prisons in France, as institutions of a religiously neutral republic, would offer better treatment to Muslims than those of England and Wales, where the Church of England and other mainstream Christian denominations have considerable influence. Researchers from the University of Warwick visited prisons on both sides of the Channel to check the reality.
•The supposed neutrality of the prison service in France towards the ethnic and religious backgrounds of prisoners is widely blamed by Muslim inmates as a prime cause of racist and discriminatory treatment.
•In contrast, the fact that Christian chaplaincy has been a central feature of prisons in England and Wales for more than 200 years has created opportunities for religious activities from which our 5,500 Muslim prisoners benefit.
•The French state strives towards not only the legal equality of all citizens but also their assimilation into a single, indivisible culture. So religious or ethnic minorities get very little official recognition.
•Britain, however, tends to favour integration of ethnic or religious minorities into a ‘community of communities’.
•The UK’s almost two million Muslims appear to be nearly three times over-represented in prisons. There are no official statistics in France about religion, but informal estimates agree that Muslims – about five million in all – are again heavily over-represented. In both countries, however, the proportion of foreign nationals among Muslim prisoners is thought to be high.
Food, hygiene and respect
•Muslim inmates in both countries had deep-seated concerns over not receiving halal food. In Britain, the situation was significantly better, but there were still allegations that supposedly halal food was suspect.
•There was also irritation that sharing cells with non-Muslims, particularly when toilets were not separated from the rest of the cell, offended Muslim notions of hygiene and decency.
.However, while Muslim prisoners tend to feel that Islam is despised in France, in England and Wales they were at least aware that official policies show respect for their religion, even if not always implemented to their satisfaction.
Religious activity provision
•Opportunities for collective worship are patchy and poor in French prisons, but extensive and improving in England and Wales, where publicly funded services include 17 full-time and 121 occasional Muslim chaplains.
•In some cases, absence of qualified imams or Muslim visitors in France allows prisoners with extremist views to exercise undue influence.
•Muslims in French gaols were particularly outspoken about racism from prison officers and other prisoners.
•In England and Wales there is extensive use of religious and ethnic categories in analysing the prison population, making provision for minorities, and framing regulations against discrimination.
•Nevertheless, Muslim inmates here report incidents of racism and anti-Islamic sentiment among prison officers. At the same time, they are well aware that officers can be severely punished for overt racism.
About the study
The research was led by Professor Danièle Joly, of the Centre for Research in Ethnic Relations, and Professor Jim Beckford, of the Department of Sociology, both at the University of Warwick, Coventry. Research in England and Wales included observation and interviews with 68 Muslim prisoners, including 20 women, whilst 67 took place with governors, race relations officers, other prison officers, chaplains and kitchen supervisors. Six full-time Muslim chaplains were also interviewed. In France, research was more difficult and restricted, though 158 interviews were conducted with Muslim prisoners, including 14 women, and 28 with prison officers and administrators.
Serious question, does it ever cross anyone’s mind to ask Muslims what “race” Islam is? Apparently not.