Lack of staff training in dealing with Muslim prisoners at one of the UK’s high-security jails risks fuelling extremist behaviour, the prisons watchdog has warned.
Chief inspector of prisons Anne Owers said that staff at Belmarsh Jail in London – which houses 198 Muslims and others awaiting trial for terror offences – were “insufficiently trained and supported” to combat the threat of extremist Muslim prisoners recruiting other inmates.
A report into the Woolwich jail said extremist Muslims were radicalising other prisoners at Belmarsh and that staff were not sufficiently trained to handle the “delicate task” of countering the risk without alienating Muslims in general.
The report also highlighted religious discrimination by staff. There was one incident where a member of staff had referred to a prayer mat as a “magic carpet”. Another prisoner said: “Staff asked me why I was reading the Koran. I doubt it would have happened if I was reading the Bible.”
However, Owers praised the two full-time imams at the jail, and the support given to them by prison governors, but added that less than half of the Muslim inmates felt they were treated with respect.
“It was not apparent that all staff understood the complexities within and around their Muslim population, or were able to establish effective and appropriate relationships with them,” she said.
The report noted improvements in suicide and bullying prevention work and said there was evidence of improvement since the previous inspection.