Scotland’s largest prison has been “twinned” with the country’s largest mosque in a bid to cut reoffending rates among Muslim ex-convicts. If successful, the scheme is likely to be rolled out to other institutions across the country.
Discussions between prison governors and the mosque’s imams have resulted in an ambition to provide spiritual guidance to inmates while still incarcerated and practical work experience to those nearing the end of their sentences.
Muslim prisoners are also likely to be paired up to share a cell, so as not to disturb other inmates when they rise early for morning prayers.
There are currently more than 12,000 Muslim prisoners in British prisons, making up approximately 14 per cent of the prison population. More than 100 of those have been jailed for terrorism related offences. According to 2011 census figures, however, Muslims account for just 4.8 per cent of the overall population.
The decision to formalise the link between Barlinnie prison and the Glasgow Central Mosque was taken at a summit at the mosque, which brought together leaders from the two institutions. Senior officials from Police Scotland and the Scottish Prison Service were also present.
The prison’s governor, Ian Whitehead said:
“We had very positive discussions about what we could do for Muslim prisoners both here in Barlinnie and, potentially, across the service more broadly.
“Working to reduce the risk of reoffending is a win-win situation for everyone and there are only positives to be gained. If it works well and we can get positive results then there is absolutely no reason it could not work in other prisons.
“Both parties shared a desire to see Muslims sharing cells, he said. “It makes sense because it means you won’t get people being disturbed or woken up when they have to pray five times a day. For those that we can’t pair up, for whatever reason, then, for occasions such as the month of Ramadan, then we would have Muslim prisoners occupying a single cell.”
He also expressed enthusiasm for the idea that the mosque will provide unpaid work experience, something that other organisations already do. “Individuals who are getting to the end of their sentence, and are fully risk assessed, get put out to do work at various locations,” he said.
“We suggested that there might be work that needs to be done at the mosque, like garden maintenance, janitorial or handyman-type tasks. If they are Muslims they would be able to work on trust in a place that reflects their faith.”
Nabeel Shaikh, general secretary at Glasgow Central Mosque, said: “As Muslims we are keen to help the community and to reduce reoffending and we will do everything we can, with our partners in the Scottish Prison Service, to make that happen.”
Earlier this year the former head of the National Counter Terrorism Security Office, Chris Philips warned that prisons were increasingly unable to tackle radicalism of Muslim prisoners in jails thanks to staffing cuts. Mr Philips said:
“We have less officers generally in prisons than ever before and we also have less police officers to deal with them, so what we have is a growing haystack of extremists where we still have to find the single needle that’s going to go off and do something really nasty.
“But of course we’ve got less people to go and look for them as well so it’s a really difficult thing for the police service and prison service to deal with.”
However, ministers were dismissive of the claim, with Justice Secretary Chris Grayling saying there was “no evidence” for Mr Philips’ claims, and adding that the government was keeping a “very careful watch” on the issue.