SHAFAQNA -Â 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 forewordÂ that â€˜This is often a forgotten section of theÂ community. We were alerted to the issue by a number of high profile cases involvingÂ Muslim women and the experiences and awareness, shared by our Director forÂ Community Develpment, Maqsood Ahmed, a former advisor to Her Majestyâ€™s PrisonÂ Service (HMP).â€™
The authors explain that â€˜This report details the work undertaken over a period of 12 months at HMP & YOIÂ New Hall & Askham Grange prisons. It is based on a caseload of 17 Muslim women,Â detailing their experiences during and post prison release. The report contains caseÂ studies, testimonies, the lead workerâ€™s observations and emonstrations of theÂ practical support provided. In the process of compiling this report we have tried to beÂ as frank as possible whilst maintaining individual anonymity.Â We hope this report will be read and absorbed by the Muslim community so they canÂ begin to address some of the challenges and hardships which Muslim women areÂ experiencing. We need to recognise that our approach and treatment of Muslim maleÂ prisoners and their rehabilitation is fundamentally different in comparison. Therefore,Â the â€œsilent sufferingâ€ of Muslim women in and post custody needs to be remedied.â€™
In their conclusion, the authors note â€˜The report clearly highlights the plight of Muslim women in prison and the enormous challengesÂ that they have to overcome during and post prison life. Their situation is further exacerbated andÂ complicated by the lack of empathy for their circumstances in the Muslim community. They areÂ largely blamed, shunned and cast aside. Equally, despite their goodwill, there is no realÂ understanding amongst the support agencies of the religious, cultural and social backgroundÂ from which these women come from or may find themselves in post prison life. This is partlyÂ because of the smaller number of Muslim women in custody and hence their needs are not inÂ focus or as clearly understood as other residents. This calls for an integrated programme ofÂ awareness, education and training for the community, prison staff and support agencies.â€™
The appendix includes two moving letters â€“ one from a lady now released and the other from a curent residentÂ at HMP New Hall. Â An extract from the latter reads
â€œâ€¦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.