Originally published at Gatestone Institute.
The number of Muslim convicts in British prisons has surpassed the 11,000 mark for the first time, according to data included in a new report produced by the British Parliament.
The statistics — from a July 29 House of Commons research report entitled, “Prison Population Statistics” — show that the number of Muslim inmates in England and Wales jumped to 11,248 in 2012, up from 3,681 in 1997. Stated another way, over the past 15 years, the number of Muslims in British prisons has jumped by more than 200%.
The rate of increase of Muslim inmates in British prisons is eight times faster than that of the overall prison population, and the numbers show a clear overrepresentation of Muslim convicts: Muslims, who make up roughly 5% of the British population as a whole, now make up 13% of the British prison population (compared to just 6% in 1997).
The growth in the number of Muslim inmates is fueling fears that British prisons are becoming hotbeds for Islamic radicalization.
Although most of the Muslims in British prisons are immigrants from Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, an increasing number of Muslim inmates are converts to Islam.
According to a research report recently commissioned by the British Ministry of Justice, many non-Muslim inmates in British prisons are being bullied into conversion or are embracing Islam in exchange for promises of protection from physical assault.
The study examines the Islamic “gang culture” inside the Whitemoor Prison in Cambridgeshire, which houses around 500 of the most dangerous prisoners in Britain. Researchers from the Cambridge Institute of Criminology who wrote the report found that more than one third (39%) of the prisoners at Whitemoor are Muslims.
Prisoners told the researchers that they had felt overwhelming pressure to convert. In some instances, they said, Muslim inmates had left Islamic literature in their cells and ordered them to “read this.” In other instances, inmates were promised that if they converted to Islam, they would be safe from physical assault.
The report states that if loners, including sex offenders, converted to Islam, fellow Muslims would defend them; they could thereby gain safety from a large and dominant group. Others used their newly acquired faith as a tool for status in establishing influence.
Non-Muslims and prison officers inside Whitemoor described Islam as an “organized gang” and a “protection racket,” which “glorified terrorist behavior and exploited the fear related to it.”
Prison guards said there were “proper Al-Qaeda” members in the prison who were regarded with “awe” by younger inmates. Some prisoners described Whitemoor as a “recruiting drive for the Taliban” and fertile ground for hatred and a new generation of extremists.
Guards also said they had a policy of “appeasement” towards the powerful and growing Islamic prison population, particularly convicted terrorists who were feared to be recruiting future extremists.
The report states: “The threat of assaults motivated by religious fanaticism or extremist ideology added weight to the atmosphere at Whitemoor,” and continues: “The new population mix, including high numbers of Muslim prisoners, was disrupting established hierarchies in the prison. Social relations among prisoners had become complex and less visible. Too much power flowed among some groups of prisoners, with some real risks of serious violence. There were high levels of fear in the prison. In particular, there were tensions and fears relating to ‘extremism’ and ‘radicalization.’”
The report concludes: “More prominent, in practice, were pressures (and temptations) felt by some prisoners to convert to Islam. Conditions in the prison made participation in Islamic practices the most ‘available’ option for those looking for belonging, meaning, ‘brotherhood,’ trust and friendship.”
Meanwhile, British media recently reported that Dale Cregan, a notorious quadruple murderer who is serving a life sentence at the Manchester Prison, is being targeted by extremist Muslims who want to convert him to Islam.
Cregan, who is of Irish Catholic background, is said to be afraid of rival gang members who have offered a bounty to anyone who attacks him in prison. Muslims have offered to protect Cregan if he converts to Islam. According to prison officials, Cregan is so well known that if he converts to Islam, it would be seen as a way to further increase the influence of Muslim gangs inside the prison.
About the Author: The writer is the Senior Analyst for Transatlantic Relations at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group, one of the oldest and most influential foreign policy think tanks in Spain.
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