REPORT – Pioneering Study on Muslim women in Prison in Britain

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SHAFAQNA - The report by Sofia Buncy and Ishtiaq Ahmed into the needs and experiences of Muslim women at three prisons during custody and post release is the first of its kind. The sponsors, which include the charity Muslim Hands, HM Prison Service and the Huddersfield Pakistani Community Alliance, are to be commended for this work on this particular social reality. The chair of Muslim Hands, Syed Lakhte Hassanain, notes in the foreword that ‘This is often a forgotten section of the community. We were alerted to the issue by a number of high profile cases involving Muslim women and the experiences and awareness, shared by our Director for Community Develpment, Maqsood Ahmed, a former advisor to Her Majesty’s Prison Service (HMP).’

The authors explain that ‘This report details the work undertaken over a period of 12 months at HMP & YOI New Hall & Askham Grange prisons. It is based on a caseload of 17 Muslim women, detailing their experiences during and post prison release. The report contains case studies, testimonies, the lead worker’s observations and emonstrations of the practical support provided. In the process of compiling this report we have tried to be as frank as possible whilst maintaining individual anonymity. We hope this report will be read and absorbed by the Muslim community so they can begin to address some of the challenges and hardships which Muslim women are experiencing. We need to recognise that our approach and treatment of Muslim male prisoners and their rehabilitation is fundamentally different in comparison. Therefore, the “silent suffering” of Muslim women in and post custody needs to be remedied.’

In their conclusion, the authors note ‘The report clearly highlights the plight of Muslim women in prison and the enormous challenges that they have to overcome during and post prison life. Their situation is further exacerbated and complicated by the lack of empathy for their circumstances in the Muslim community. They are largely blamed, shunned and cast aside. Equally, despite their goodwill, there is no real understanding amongst the support agencies of the religious, cultural and social background from which these women come from or may find themselves in post prison life. This is partly because of the smaller number of Muslim women in custody and hence their needs are not in focus or as clearly understood as other residents. This calls for an integrated programme of awareness, education and training for the community, prison staff and support agencies.’

The appendix includes two moving letters – one from a lady now released and the other from a curent resident at HMP New Hall.  An extract from the latter reads

“…by being remembered by our Muslim brothers and sisters @ Muslim Hands we felt accepted, after all the hardship we are going through and by being in Prison. Being in prison as an Asian woman is very difficult especially wiht the stigma that is attached within the Asian communities. We hope Allah formges us all for our mistakes and be accepted back into our communties.

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