Page last updated at 08:26 GMT, Monday, 26 May 2008 09:26 UK

MP to discuss Muslim inmate fear

Prison door
Whitemoor Prison has a high number of Muslim inmates

An MP is to hold a meeting with officials after a report expressed concerns about Muslim inmates at a high-security jail in his constituency.

A Prison Service review of Whitemoor Prison in Cambridgeshire found the high numbers of Muslim inmates made some staff "anxious and apprehensive".

Malcolm Moss MP said he had spoken to prison staff and morale was "low".

The Prison Service says it will examine how to manage gangs and terrorist prisoners at the jail.

The report, written by the Prison Service's directorate of high security, was obtained by the Howard League for Penal Reform under the Freedom of Information Act.

It raised a number of concerns, particularly the increasing power of the large number of Muslim inmates - more than one in four of the 500 prisoners are Muslim.

'Seriously wrong'

Mr Moss, Conservative MP for north-east Cambridgeshire, said he had been planning to meet a senior official from the Prison Officers Association, and the issue of Muslim inmates would now be on the agenda.

"I have had a number of people who work at the prison come to see me in recent months with a number of problems - mainly relating to their contracts," he said.

"I gather morale there is pretty low. I am concerned that something is seriously wrong."

One of the things the report does flag up is that low grade prison officers feel unable to confront with sensitivity Muslim prisoners
Andrew Neilson, Howard League assistant director

The report found staff at Whitemoor Prison near March, Cambridgeshire, "appeared reluctant to challenge inappropriate behaviour, in particular among black and minority ethnic prisoners, for fear of doing the wrong thing".

"This was leading to a general feeling of lack of control and shifting the power dynamic towards prisoners," the report said.

"A wing itself felt particularly unstable with a general lack of confidence among staff."

Urgent matter

The report said there was an "ongoing theme of fear and instability" around the prison and many staff believed a "serious incident" was imminent.

It said the "very high Muslim population" appeared to be "leading to anxiety and apprehension among some staff".

"There is a danger of this leading to hostility and Islamophobia if it is not addressed," the report adds.

The Howard League said the report raised "extremely disturbing" issues and called for "urgent action".

Assistant director Andrew Neilson said: "One of the things the report does flag up is that low grade prison officers feel unable to confront with sensitivity Muslim prisoners.

"And therefore they're not really aware whether these are criminal gangs - or criminal gangs with a darker side where radicalisation is also going on."

'Appropriate training'

The report recommended an "intelligence assessment of the Muslim prisoner group of concern and their possible activities" and "more cultural awareness and diversity training".

Whitemoor governor Steve Rodford asked for the wide-ranging review after five prisoners committed suicide between November 2006 and December 2007.

A 14-strong Prison Service team carried out the investigation in February.

The Prison Service said a "programme of work" was planned "to increase mutual understanding between staff and prisoners", including a "development day for staff on the Muslim faith".

A Prison Service spokeswoman said: "Appropriate training and staff awareness are crucial in tackling radicalisation.

"The prison will continue to work closely with the Prison Service's extremism unit and the police to monitor and assess issues around extremism, and work will be undertaken to examine the management of gangs and terrorist prisoners within the prison."




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