The British government has vetoed plans to ban Friday prayers for Muslim prisoners who may “abuse” them to spread extremism.
Officials feared a proposal to force Muslims to worship alone in their cells would fuel discontent and lead to even further radicalisation of inmates.
Prison governors are currently responsible for ensuring acts of worship are safe, and have the power to remove troublemakers, but a report by Ian Acheson has suggested ending Friday prayers completely if there is a risk of extremists exploiting them.
However, one prison source told the Times: “There would be enormous political fallout as well as risks to the stability of prisons if Friday prayers were banned. It would become an issue of us attacking religion, whatever faith was involved.”
The Ministry of Justice has now confirmed: “We will ensure that governors use their existing powers to remove prisoners from corporate worship where they are behaving subversively or promoting beliefs that run counter to fundamental British values.
“We do not, however, believe it is the right course of action at present to alter the provision of worship more generally or to pursue in-cell alternatives.”
Mr Acheson’s report warned that “cultural sensitivity” towards Muslim prisoners was stopping staff “challenging unacceptable extremist behaviour and views”, and that some supervisors were being pressured to leave the room during some acts of worship.
The report also warned that “charismatic Islamist extremist prisoners [are] acting as self-styled ‘emirs’ and exerting a controlling and radicalising influence of the wider Muslim prison population”.
Responding to the report, Justice Secretary Liz Truss said: “Islamist extremism is a danger to society and a threat to public safety — it must be defeated wherever it is found. I am committed to confronting and countering the spread of this poisonous ideology behind bars.
“Preventing the most dangerous extremists from radicalising other prisoners is essential to the safe running of our prisons and fundamental to public protection.”