Written evidence from Maslaha
At Maslaha we seek to change and challenge the conditions that create inequalities for Muslim communities in areas such as education, gender, criminal justice and health. Our work is practical and rooted in local communities but with a reach that is national and international, and with a view to influencing policy and the public imagination. We recognise and rely on the knowledge and expertise that exists in the communities that we work with and the power this has to create change across society.
Criminal Justice Programme
We advocate for a more sophisticated approach to understanding the needs of Muslim men and women in the Criminal Justice System which will lead to better designed and delivered public services and ultimately a justice system that does not discriminate on the basis of religion or ethnicity. We also believe that central to this journey is ensuring that the voices of those have been through the criminal justice are heard and their expertise is recognised.
Responding to questions in the call for evidence
Reports by various organisations such as Clinks have shown that decision making in the justice system based on discretionary decision can lead to disproportionate outcomes for BAME people. This decision making can be influenced by racism or unconscious bias especially within a prison environment where many decisions are made on the discretion of the prison staff for example with prisoners’ behaviour and minor breaches of the rules. This has also been highlighted by the Young Review:
"BAME prisoners perceived that they were more likely to receive warnings and adjudications than their white counterparts, were more likely to be found guilty than white prisoners even when they had been involved in the same incident and that opportunities for purposeful activity that would allow them to work towards enhanced status were not equally distributed across prisoners of different ethnicities, with white prisoners being favoured.”
In our report Time to end the Silence Time to End the Silence: the experience of Muslims in the prison system shows in detail the challenges Muslims in prison face when accessing vital services. This report is based on a mixture of long interviews, focus groups, and observation conducted with those in custody and outside the prison estate.
Based on recent interviews with Muslim men who have been through the prison system we believe this biased discretionary decision-making can be a factor within the probation service. In a recent interview with a young Muslim man who had been released from prison, we heard:
"Every Probation officer I've always had - I've always dreading meeting them because you never know what they want for us inside their head or heart."
An example of what was felt to be unequal decision making was highlighted by one of the probation service users that we interviewed:
"I was given a harsher warning, a major warning in probation and my co-defendant got no warning from his probation officer, only a verbal warning. It’s a step closer for me to be back in jail. I just feel as if his probation is not the same as mine but they work in the same building and have spoken about the incident - why is it different for him? Why? I don’t get how it works. Why would they do that if they a service that’s meant to be rehabilitating and putting people on the right path."
At Maslaha we understand the importance of the through the gate process for anybody being released from prison into the community. How will the new framework be able to make sure this information that is exchanged does not cause unequal outcomes for BAME people?
We recommend that probation staff should take into account the possible discrimination and Islamophobia that maybe encountered within a custodial sentence and the impact this has on rehabilitation and the desistance journey. To support National Probation Service staff to do this effectively, they should be given appropriate training on the needs and experiences of Muslim people in prison.