Inmates are converting to Islam in order to gain perks and the protection of powerful Muslim gangs, the Chief Inspector of Prisons warns today.
Dame Anne Owers says that some convicted criminals are taking up the religion in jail to receive benefits only available to practising Muslims.
The number of Muslim prisoners has risen dramatically since the mid-1990s -- from 2,513 in 1994, or 5 per cent of the population, to 9,795 in 2008, or 11 per cent. Staff at top-security prisons and youth jails have raised concerns about the intimidation of non-Muslims and possible forced conversions.
Dame Anne's report, Muslim Prisoners' Experiences, published today, says that, although several high-profile terrorists have been jailed recently, fewer than 1 in 100 Muslim inmates have been convicted of terrorism.
She says that prison staff are suspicious about those practising or converting to the faith and warns that treating Muslim inmates as potential or actual extremists risks radicalising them.
The report says: "Many Muslim prisoners stressed the positive and rehabilitative role that Islam played in their lives, and the calm that religious observance could induce in a stressed prison environment.
This was in marked contrast to the suspicion that religious observance, and particularly conversion or reversion, tended to produce among staff."
All prisons offer a halal menu, which some inmates see as better than the usual choices. Muslims are excused from work and education while attending Friday prayers.
Some converts, who are known as "convenience Muslims", admitted that they had changed faith because they got more time out of the cells to go to Friday prayers. One quoted in the report said: "Food good too, initially this is what converted me."...
But of course, halal food is just the beginning.