Muslim Hands Report: Muslim Women in Prison

Muslim Hands UK have released a new report which explores the issues faced by Muslim women both while they are in prison and after being released.

Muslim Hands – Muslim Women in Prison (pdf)

A hard-hitting report reveals that Muslim women, sentenced to prison, are often shunned by their families and their local communities, but Muslim men are treated differently.

The pilot project was carried out jointly by the leading national and international charity, Muslim Hands and Huddersfield Pakistani Community Alliance (HPCA), which has an innovative and uncompromising approach to difficult and sensitive issues.

The recently launched report, was researched and written by Huddersfield-based Sofia Buncy and Ishtiaq Ahmed. The pilot phase initially began with the co-operation of New Hall Prison, near Flockton, but was then extended to include Askham Grange near York.

Maqsood Ahmed, Director of Community Development, Muslim Hands, said:

Some choose not to believe that Muslim women in prison even exist as the subject is embroiled in stigma, taboo and shame. There is the attitude that these women should not be talked about or supported, let alone rehabilitated.

Unfortunately, among the service providers there also appears to be a lack of awareness of the social and cultural norms and sanctions, as well as the religious governance that affects the lives of women Muslim prisoners. Thus, engagement can often be limited and ineffective.

Commenting on the findings of the report, Sofia Buncy said:

The general view in the Muslim community is that this area is something, which needs to be left untouched. Muslim women in prison most often have to overcome additional and exceptional challenges and hurdles in the form of rejection, cultural taboos and forced family/ community isolation. It appears that the Muslim community is more accepting of male prisoners but females are marginalised and labelled as bringing ‘shame and dishonour’ to the family and community.

We have found that Muslim women ex-prisoners have a multiple of additional needs with respect to Islamic divorce, inheritance, access to children, legal matters in countries of their origin and immigration status to mention a few. These are complex, sensitive and time consuming issues that require specialist intervention.

Due to shame, embarrassment, pride and dignity the women are often disowned by their families or relationships are severely fractured and hence there is no or little link when they are in prison. Once they leave the prison, they are often not able to return to their families or their communities for fear of rejection and criticism.

Pointing out that family links often led the women into trouble, Sofia Buncy said: “We did identify a theme of family loyalty and crime where the female prisoners may have been connected to a crime which is linked with other family members.”

Among the report’s recommendations are: the need for more Asian female prison officers or officers with an in-depth knowledge of the religious, cultural or social norms of Muslim female inmates; mediation to allow them the chance to reconnect with their families and providing them with adequate care and support.

The report concludes:

The ‘silent suffering’ of Muslim women in and post custody needs to be remedied. There are gaps in the way facilities, services and rehabilitation programmes are structured which discourage female Muslim inmates from accessing support available.