The report is based on a literature review and interviews with 25 young adult Muslim ex-offenders aged 18-30, mainly from East London
A new report published last week by the Tower Hamlets based charity Osmani trust investigate the experiences of young Muslims offenders with a particular focus on two key issues:
The report also identified enablers that can help sustain young Muslims ex-offenders progress towards rehabilitation, reintegration, and desistance from re-offending after release from prison or at the end of community sentencing.
The report is based on a literature review and interviews with 25 young adult Muslim ex-offenders aged 18-30, mainly from East London and five professionals from the CJS and related services. The majority of the ex-offender respondents were Bangladeshi (76%), and the remaining were Pakistani, Black and Indian.
We summarise the key findings of the report ed below.
Reasons for offending
Socio-economic inequalities, unemployment, living in high-crime areas and the social pressures to acquire a certain lifestyle were highlighted as drivers leading these young people to start offending.
Unequal treatment in prison
Nearly all interviewees felt they were not treated equally in prison and a significant number reported being subjected to Islamophobia and/or racism from prison staff. They highlighted differential access to prison regimes and reported the difficulty of getting good jobs in prisons, as all good jobs and opportunities seemed to have been offered to White offenders.
Muslims offenders suffering from mental health issues found it challenging to access any professional support in prison, felt ignored and felt they received differential treatment compared to their White counterparts.
Islam was highlighted as a positive factor that helped offenders who chose to practice their faith to resettle in the community and desist from reoffending. They wanted much more support with their faith related needs and education whilst in prison as they believed this would have strengthened their resilience to reoffending.
Whilst most praised the support they received from Imams in prison they highlighted the very limited contact times available due to high demand and lack of Imams from the Prison Chaplain Service made available.
Interviewees reported being hesitant to practice their faith fully in prison due to fears of being labelled as an extremist and reported to the ‘Anti-Terror team.’ They felt this stereotype was fuelled by media and reinforced by some prison staff. Most respondents said prison staff do not understand Muslims and their faith related needs and with the exception of dietary needs, prisons fail to adequately meet their broader faith and cultural needs.
The majority of respondents said they did not receive any preparatory support with regards to resettlement needs before release from prison and that the Probation service didn’t meet their needs or offer anything useful.
There was disappointment that the criminal justice system does not sufficiently engage and support families of prisoners. Some reported not having visits in prison due to families’ lack of information on how to arrange visits, language barriers or unable to afford transport. Families are a crucial element in the lives of most Muslims and just under half of respondents were living with their parents at the time of entering prison. Nearly all respondents stated that their families were supportive and instrumental to their resettlement journey and could have benefited more through a collaborative approach.
The report makes a total of 23 different recommendations aimed to improve the experiences of young Muslims in contact with the criminal justice system and make it easier for them to access support in their resettlement and desistance journeys. Perhaps the most important recommendations are:
Introduce prison staff training programmes to help officers understand basic Islamic belief and practice and, in particular, the difference between normative Islamic beliefs and practice and extremist behaviours.
The probation service to improve connections and referral pathways with local Muslim-led support services, communities, and Mosques that can support Muslim service users’ needs.
Greater joint working between statutory services and Mosques to improve the capacity of Mosques and Muslim charities to support Muslim offenders and their families; including the resourcing of culturally specific services.
Readers who would like to see the whole report can find it here.