Religion in Prisons: A 50-State Survey of Prison Chaplains

From the perspective of the nation’s professional prison chaplains, America’s state penitentiaries are a bustle of religious activity. More than seven-in-ten (73%) state prison chaplains say that efforts by inmates to proselytize or convert other inmates are either very common (31%) or somewhat common (43%). About three-quarters of the chaplains say that a lot (26%) or some (51%) religious switching occurs among inmates in the prisons where they work. Many chaplains report growth from religious switching in the numbers of Muslims and Protestant Christians, in particular.

Overwhelmingly, state prison chaplains consider religious counseling and other religion-based programming an important aspect of rehabilitating prisoners. Nearly three-quarters of the chaplains (73%), for example, say they consider access to religion-related programs in prison to be “absolutely critical” to successful rehabilitation of inmates. And 78% say they consider support from religious groups after inmates are released from prison to be absolutely critical to inmates’ successful rehabilitation and re-entry into society. Among chaplains working in prisons that have religion-related rehabilitation or re-entry programs, more than half (57%) say the quality of such programs has improved over the last three years and six-in-ten (61%) say participation in such programs has gone up.

At the same time, a sizable minority of chaplains say that religious extremism is either very common (12%) or somewhat common (29%) among inmates. Religious extremism is reported by the chaplains as especially common among Muslim inmates (including followers of the Nation of Islam and the Moorish Science Temple of America) and, to a substantial but lesser degree, among followers of pagan or earth-based religions such as Odinism and various forms of Wicca. (See Glossary.) An overwhelming majority of chaplains, however, report that religious extremism seldom poses a threat to the security of the facility in which they work, with only 4% of chaplains saying religious extremism among inmates “almost always” poses a threat to prison security and an additional 19% saying it “sometimes” poses a threat.

Response To Muslim Suit Riles Ohio Pork Industry

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A decision by Ohio officials to remove all pork products from prison menus in response to a lawsuit by Muslim inmates is not sitting well with the state’s pork producers and processors.
Both promise action of their own, including a possible counter lawsuit, to address what they consider an unfair and illogical decision.

“We really think it’s not in the best interest, frankly, of the whole prison system,” said Dick Isler, executive director of the Ohio Pork Producers Council. “It seems like we’re letting a small group make the rules when it really isn’t in the best interest of the rest of prisoners.” Pork is inexpensive and nutritious and compares well to other lean meats, he said.

Ironically, the inmates’ lawsuit doesn’t involve pork at all; it demands that non-pork meats like beef come from animals slaughtered according to Islamic law. But the prisons system responded by simply removing pork as an option altogether.

If Ohio would provide Muslim inmates with pre-packaged meals similar to those given to Jewish inmates, as the lawsuit requests, it wouldn’t be necessary to remove pork from menus, said David Singleton, executive director of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center, which is suing on behalf of the two inmates.

On the other hand, California provides packaged kosher meals to Jewish inmates and halal meals prepared at prisons for Muslim prisoners. While Texas, does serve pork to prisoners, offers Muslim inmates regular, meat-free or pork-free meals but not halal meals.

Rep. King Finds a New Target

THE FURY surrounding New York Representative Peter King’s March hearing on the radicalization of Muslim-American communities was an embarrassment for the House and its Homeland Security Committee. Not a single meaningful recommendation came from the politically charged investigation. The only memorable moment was when Representative Keith Ellison, the first Muslim member of Congress, broke down as he spoke of a falsely accused Muslim New York City paramedic who died on Sept. 11, 2001.

Today, King will hold a second hearing that will look at the radicalization of Muslims in US prisons. It lacks the drama and emotion of the first. Indeed, the silence surrounding it is deafening. Likely, after the death of Osama bin Laden, it is more difficult for King to whip up fears that the Obama administration is going soft on terrorism.

But, as with King’s first hearing, there is a germ of truth in his concerns, if not his intensive focus on Muslim-Americans. Radicalization is clearly a growing problem in prisons. A 2008 study by the Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice showed a link between prison gangs, radicalization, and violence. Many corrections officers are now trained to identify prisoners who adopt extreme views.

In a statement released after King’s hearing, the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said:

“Reasonable people must question why no official with the Federal Bureau of Prisons testified today at Representative King’s agenda-driven hearing. This omission is yet another reason interest in King’s show trials of the American Muslim community diminished significantly after his first hearing.

“The one witness who has conducted extensive academic research on the issue was Professor Bert Useem of Purdue University, whose research was funded by institutions affiliated with the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice. In his written testimony, Useem concluded, ‘My core argument, then, is that U.S. prisons are not systematically generating a terrorist threat to the U.S. homeland.’

Religious Pluralism in Swiss Prisons

A recent study by the Swiss National Sciences Foundation has found that religious pluralism in Swiss prisons does not lead to the same kind of conflicts that occur in French and British prisons. Catholic and Protestant prison chaplains have long been integrated into the Swiss institutional framework; however, given that the number of Muslim prisoners has risen significantly over the last years, prisons have been facing increasingly diversified challenges to respond to Muslim concerns.
Certain practices have led to more difficulties than others: halal meat (sometimes only provided if the prisoners can pay for it themselves); fasting during the month of Ramadan; appropriate spaces for daily prayers; and the organization of regular religious services. In the latter case, in a number of prisons imams do come to deliver sermons, however they are not integrated into the prison system. For example, in one prison in the canton of Vaud, one third of the prisoners are Muslims and two imams come to deliver sermons on Fridays. However, neither of them is officially recognized and their work is entirely voluntary.
Furthermore, the study found that although religious diversity might not lead to interfaith conflicts, Muslims remain stigmatized. This was found to be the case especially among the prison personnel, who would frequently bring up stereotypes concerning Islam and Muslims without having been explicitly asked a question on the subject.
The study concludes by recommending greater religious understanding on the part of the personnel; an adaptation of the legal framework to better reflect the current demographic reality; and finally conceptualizing the role of prison chaplains so as to encourage more interreligious capacities. The latter would benefit greatly from encouraging special prison chaplain courses of study at universities, such as the Master’s program that exists at the University of Bern.
Swiss National Science Foundation – National Research Program 58:
Communiqué
Report on the Sociological Challenges of Religious Plurality in Swiss Prisons (French)

State Multiculturalism Has Failed, Says David Cameron

5 February

The prime minister has criticised “state multiculturalism” in his first speech on radicalisation and the causes of terrorism since being elected. Addressing a security conference in Germany, David Cameron argued the UK needed a stronger national identity to prevent people turning to extremism. He also signalled a tougher stance on groups promoting Islamist extremism.

But the Muslim Council of Britain said its community was being seen as part of the problem rather than the solution. Mr Cameron suggested there would be greater scrutiny of some Muslim groups that get public money but do little to tackle extremism. Ministers should refuse to share platforms or engage with such groups, which should be denied access to public funds and barred from spreading their message in universities and prisons, he argued.

Protect Moroccan prisoners by providing Iftar during Ramadan

August 17, 2010
The association “Alternativa Culturale dei Marocchini in Italia” (Cultural Alternative of Italian Moroccans) is providing for Iftar to Moroccan prisoners in the Lazio region during the period of Ramadan. This project is coordinated by the foundation Hassan II and the Ministry of Moroccan Community Abroad. The Guarantor of the prisoners’ rights in the region Lazio has welcomed the initiative and the directors of many prisons in the region are checking its feasibility. The plan, says the Guarantor, has undeniable social value as it facilitates a connection between the detainees and the outside world. This is of particular importance considering the difficulty that overcrowded Italian prisons are facing. The initiative, in fact, encourages the detainees toward social rehabilitation.

Self-Proclaimed Imams Proselytizing in Italian Prisons: A Conversion Boom

The article’s writer deals with the problem of jihadist radicalisation in Italian penitentiary institutions. He warns of the risk of self-proclaimed imams who proselytize other Muslim prisoners, leading them towards extremism. According to European reports, in many Italian prisons Muslims enter as thieves and come out as Islamists. Once freed from prison they are recruited. This means that, although the recruitment doesn’t take place inside the prison, connections are nevertheless possible and even actively established with the outside. Many convert to Islam when in jail because Islam gives them a sense of redemption. In the light of this spiritual need, the author suggests, it would be advisable that along with Christian chaplains, official imams should be appointed to provide their services in Italian prisons. 80 Islamists are in Italian prisons for crimes related to terrorism. They have received a strong military preparation as well as the logistic and organisational capacity to guide the gangs in prisons. In such a scenario, the main risk is posed by rebellions: there have been protests by Muslims about the overcrowding of prisons and for perceived religious and civil persecutions by the maximum-security regime. The author warns that the terrorists in our prisons would be ready to die in the name of their jihad and that, in the event of a rebellion, they would not hesitate to take prison officers hostage.

Prison staff treat muslims as “potential terrorists”

Muslim prisoners could be driven to extremism by a crude security-led approach that treats them all as potential terrorists, the chief inspector of prisons warns today. Dame Anne Owers said the treatment of Muslim prisoners as potential or actual terrorists is common despite the fact that fewer than 1% are in prison for terrorist-related offences.

Her report is based on interviews with 164 Muslim prisoners in eight prisons and young offender institutions. “It would be naive to deny that there are, within the prison population, Muslims who hold radical extremist views, or who may be attracted to them for a variety of reasons,” she said. “But that does not argue for a blanket, security-led approach to Muslim prisoners in general.”

She called on the National Offender Management Service (Noms) to develop a strategy “for effective staff engagement with Muslims as individual prisoners with specific risks and needs, rather than as part of a separate and troubling group”.

Muslim prison chaplains to be standardized

Following an agreement reached between the justice minister, Claudia Bandion-Ortner and the president of the Islamic Religious Community, Anas Schakfeh, Muslim chaplains in prisons are to be standardized across the country. At around 1300 Muslim inmates, Islam has come to represent the second largest religion in Austrian penal institutions. Earlier religious services had been the result of local and regional cooperation, which meant regular visits by Muslim chaplains had been limited to ten prisons. The goal of the agreement is that such regular visits be possible in all prisons where a demand exists.

The agreement also lays out a number of minimum standards for the chaplains and conditions for the prisons visits. This includes a high school diploma; good knowledge of German, in order to hold religious services in German; and basic knowledge of the prison system, so as to ensure an optimal balance between safety and religious practice.

In the press release, Bandion-Ortner stressed the importance of the chaplain’s assistance in the resocialization of inmates, while Schakfeh expressed his happiness that an important step had been taken towards the broader institutionalization of Muslim prison chaplains.

Terrorists smuggle fatwas out of secure prisons in the UK

Some of Britain’s most dangerous al-Qaeda leaders are promoting jihad from inside high-security prisons by smuggling out propaganda for the internet and finding recruits. In an authoritative report, the “counter-terrorism think tank” Quilliam claims “mismanagement” by the Prison Service is helping al-Qaeda gain recruits and risks “strengthening jihadist movements”.

Abu Qatada, described by MI5 as “Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe”, has published fatwas – religious rulings – on the internet from Long Lartin prison, in Worcestershire, calling for holy war and the murder of moderate Muslims, it reveals.