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Criminal Justice

The experiences of female Muslim prisoners

Muslim Hands have launched their 15-month research study into the experiences, resettlement needs and identities of female Muslim prisoners across seven women’s prisons in England.

Female Muslim prisoners currently number 254, making up 6% of the 3,974 women’s prison population. This report highlights the distinct needs and experiences of female Muslims in prison bringing their voices to the forefront, filling some of the gaps in knowledge about these women and addressing how faith, ethnicity and gender overlap.

The report found that:

  • 79% of the women said they had experienced Domestic Violence and Abuse (DVA). In some cases violent, abusive and controlling experiences were linked to the offence. However, experiencing DVA is common in the female prison population as a whole.
  • Many had experienced mental health issues.
  • Cultural expectations around shame and honour can have a silencing as well as a normalising effect with regard to DVA and sexual violence
  • Shame is a characteristic of many female Muslim prisoners and impacts on family contact, as well as whether the women are accepted or disowned.
  • Contact with families was reported as either very positive, supportive and present, or as negative, non-existent and judgemental, with very little in between. This can also be said of the general female prison population.
  • Bringing shame on families has implications for resettlement, particularly for Muslim women.  Some describe serving a ‘second sentence’ in order to be forgiven by families.
  • Female Muslim prisoners face prejudice, Islamophobia and racism from both prisoners and prison staff as well as within the CJS
  • Female Muslim prisoners occupy an almost unique position in prison:
    • Their faith can be strengthened, is often central to their identity, and provides support. However, as an institution Islam is not always viewed as an asset[1] and this makes women feel defensive and further marginalised.
    • Their voices are often unheard, and they are often invisible in policy-making, families and communities. However, there is an additional hyper-visibility in the media and with the public, particularly for those who are visibly Muslim (i.e. those who wear the hijab or have certain surnames)

[1] Maslaha, (2016), Young Muslims on Trial, London: Maslaha

Watch this video about the project.