Prison Service must improve relations with Muslim inmates

The Prison Service needs to “urgently” improve how staff deal with Muslim inmates, the chief inspector of prisons has warned.

After a visit to high security HMP Whitemoor in April, chief inspector Anne Owers said staff at the jail appeared to have little idea of, and been given no support in, how to relate to Muslim inmates, except as suspected national security risks or extremists.

Relationships between staff and prisoners, except on the specialist units, were “distant and distrustful”, and fewer prisoners than in other high security prisons said that most staff treated them with respect.

However, the inspector did identify some progress, with use of force and segregation reduced and innovative working in the specialist unit for prisoners with dangerous and severe personality disorders.

Owers said: “There had undoubtedly been some improvements at Whitemoor since the previous inspection. However, at the same time, the population had become more challenging, and it was not evident that the prison had yet been able to rise to those challenges.

“In particular, as we have said in relation to other prisons, especially high security prisons, the Prison Service as a whole needs to equip staff better to deal with the growing number of Muslim prisoners. This inspection and others have charted a growing disaffection and distance between those prisoners and the prison system: a gap which urgently needs to be bridged.”

Phil Wheatley, director-general of the National Offender Management Service, said: “Work to improve the relationships between staff and prisoners is a priority, and measures have been implemented to tackle this, including training to develop staff understanding of the growing Muslim population.”

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