THE Chief Inspector of Prisons has warned more needs to be done to tackle simmering religious and racial tensions in a high security jail in Yorkshire which houses some of the country’s most dangerous inmates.
A report published today has highlighted a growing resentment among Muslim prisoners detained at HMP Full Sutton, near York, who believe they are being persecuted by staff and other inmates because of their beliefs.
Concerns have already been voiced that perceived injustices among prisoners could lead to them embracing extremism on their release and heighten the risk of terrorist attacks.
The Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick, has stressed that concerted efforts need to be undertaken to counter accusations from Muslim and ethnic minority inmates that they are being discriminated against.
While an unannounced five-day inspection of the prison in December did not find any specific evidence of the perceptions of the Muslim and ethnic minority inmates, Mr Hardwick has stressed it remains an “area of concern”.
He added: “The prison had done some work to try and understand these concerns, but more imaginative consultation and communication with these groups was required.”
HMP Full Sutton holds 600 category A and B prisoners serving long sentences in high security conditions, and about a third of inmates are either black or from ethnic minorities.
The report published today found that 61 per cent of black and minority ethnic (BME) inmates who responded to a survey claimed they were treated with respect by staff, compared with 82 per cent of white prisoners. A third of black and ethnic inmates felt unsafe, compared with 17 per cent of white prisoners, according to the research.
Fewer than one per cent of the prison’s workers were of a black or ethnic background, while equality representatives suggested that staff had little understanding of the diverse backgrounds of prisoners, according to the report.
The perceived discrimination was even more pronounced among Muslims, with just 58 per cent of respondents claiming staff treated them respectfully, compared with 80 per cent of non-Muslims. A total of 37 per cent of Muslim inmates said they felt unsafe, compared with 18 per cent of non-Muslim prisoners.
The Muslim Council of Britain has urged the Prison Service to engage fully with inmates to ensure their religious beliefs are upheld.
A spokeswoman said: “It is imperative for prison services to accommodate all inmates irrespective of their race, religion or ethnicity as it is a place for reform and rehabilitation.
“It is important that BME communities are given the same security, safety and equality that are given to other inmates. Further engagement with the chaplains and the community may help to develop a better understanding of the underlying issues.
“They (the inspectors) have noted that communication needs to be strengthened with minority ethnic and Muslim prisoners and we hope that is taken up swiftly.”
The perceived injustices at HMP Full Sutton come after Mr Hardwick’s predecessor, Dame Anne Owers, warned in 2010 that the treatment of Muslim prisoners as potential or actual extremists is widespread in the penal system despite fewer than one per cent of the inmates serving sentences for terror-related offences.
Today’s report comes in the wake of a separate report published last month by HMP Full Sutton’s Independent Monitoring Board (IMB), which also warned about tensions between Muslim prisoners and other inmates.
But Mr Hardwick did stress staff are dealing “very effectively” with challenges other prisons find difficult to manage. Today’s report claimed levels of violence and drug use were low and there is a good range of “well-managed activity” available.
However, long-held concerns over the segregation unit remain as there was an “insufficient focus” on improving behaviour and helping inmates reintegrate back on the main wings.
Inmates at HMP Full Sutton have included serial killer Dennis Nilsen, M25 road-rage killer Kenneth Noye and Charles Bronson, one of Britain’s most violent and notorious criminals.