The Muslim prison population in England and Wales has sharply increased in recent years. The BBC’s Ushma Mistry hears from former inmates and prison officers who claim gangs of Muslim prisoners are an increasingly powerful force.
“Muslims run it. Muslims run the prisons and there’s nothing the screws can do about it. For a Muslim you’d say it’s good but for a non-Muslim, it’s very, very bad,” a former inmate called Jay says.
‘Jay’ has spent many years inside various prisons in the South of England. It is a claim which is backed by former prison officers and other inmates.
Jay, 24, is a Muslim and has been in and out of prison for most of his life. He openly admits to helping to convert non-Muslim inmates to Islam and has meted out violence against anyone who dares to “disrespect” his religion.
He first went to prison when he was 15 and said there were hardly any Muslims inmates back then.
“At the beginning not many knew about Islam. There weren’t many converts. The mosque was empty, but nowadays jails are run mostly by the Muslims,” he said.
“There are certain brothers that convert purely on the basis that they read Islam and they want to believe in something that does good for them. Then other people because they want to be looked after.
“I’ve been in jail five times and on my last occasion, I’ve seen jails being run by Muslim inmates.
“Muslim prayers on a Friday are very, very busy. In some prisons there’s no space. In one jail I was in, they do the prayers in two sessions because there’s no space.”
Muslims represent 12% (9,795) of the prison population in England and Wales, according to the latest available figures from 2008. This has risen by 50% over five years.
In some high security prisons, the figures are well above average.
In 2008, Muslim prisoners accounted for a third (34%) of prisoners in HMP Whitemoor, in March, Cambridgeshire, and about a quarter (24%) of inmates in HMP Long Lartin, in Evesham, Worcestershire.
Speaking anonymously, a former prison officer, who worked at HMP Long Lartin, told the Donal MacIntyre programme about cases where non-Muslim prisoners were seriously assaulted and intimidated for refusing to abide by unofficial rules imposed by Muslim gangs, about eating pork or listening to Western music.
“Muslim gangs was something I was very concerned about – the situation changed where underworld gangsters who used to keep discipline and order were no longer in charge in the prison,” she said.
“The younger guys, who were being forced to convert, were doing it more for protection from a Muslim gang rather than follow the faith – most of them weren’t interested in the faith.
“I knew one lad quite well who was approached by the radical Muslims, and he changed. He just seemed very frightened all the time.
“He used to be forced to pray at certain times and I know for a fact they would be woken in the middle of the night to pray.
“He even grew a long beard even though he didn’t want to. I asked him why he grew the beard and he said ‘It’s survival miss, survival'”.
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