Faith, family and crime
A new report by Arooj, a charity working with BAME and Muslim offenders and their families, in partnership with Professor Edward Abbott-Halpin at Leeds Beckett University and Dr Christine Hough from the University of Central Lancashire, explores Muslim families involvement with the Criminal Justice Sector and its impact on their health and social needs.
The report set out to investigate how a family member’s involvement with the Criminal Justice System (CJS) affects Muslim families and their social and health needs. In particular:
- the attitudes of Muslim families towards offenders/ex-offenders in their household;
- some of the barriers faced by Muslim families in accessing mainstream support services; and
- the role of Muslim families and Faith organisations in supporting offenders/ex-offenders.
The report made six key findings:
- All of the families were suffering from negative and sometimes extreme mental and physical problems as a direct result of involvement with the CJS.
- Muslim men, in the majority of cases, do not inform the women in the family when family members have been arrested and are going through (legal) court processes.
- Muslim families have very little information about any of the CJ processes involved, from arrest to conviction. None of the families were aware of pre-sentence reports, nor did they have any idea of the significance of the report to the sentencing report.
- Some aspects of Muslim family culture actually present barriers to family members accessing support services. The majority of the families had no awareness of any organisation that provided specific help – apart from Arooj.
- Imams and Mosques do not engage with, nor do they provide support to, families who are going through the process of the CJS.
- 26% of the respondents specifically stated that the “wrong crowd” and “the local, older lads with flashy cars” were to blame for grooming their family member into crime. Also, in some instances, the draw towards/ involvement in criminal behaviour resulted in individuals behaving counter to the basic tenets of their Islamic faith.
The report made ten recommendations.
Five of these focused on the criminal justice system:
- The recommendations of the Lammy Review, 2017 and the Young Review report, 2014 should be implemented speedily to reduce disproportionate numbers of Muslims in the criminal justice system.
- Research by the Transition to Adulthood Alliance provides evidence of bias against Muslims in the criminal justice system. Training of criminal justice professionals, including sentencers, should include cultural awareness training to eliminate this.
- Solicitors and other professional advisors should be aware of the impact of traditional family structures on the relatives (particularly the female relatives) of those they represent. They should seek to ensure that families are referred to sources of support, and should encourage their clients to talk to their families about their situation.
- Where there is a significant cultural difference between the defendant and the judge or magistrate, pre-sentence report writers should highlight the cultural environment and the support structures offered in the community. If the report writer is not aware of these factors, the case should be adjourned. Report writers should conduct interviews with the defendant and if possible engage with the family to gather details of the defendant’s home life, and of the role the family and community can play in supporting rehabilitation.
- Prison staff , including those staffing reception and visiting areas should be made aware of the particular needs and vulnerabilities of Muslim families, particularly in prisons where Muslim prisoners are in a minority.
Two recommendations were directed at charities and funders:
- Charities (and other support services) should be aware of the specific cultural issues and needs of Muslim families and take these into account when offering services. They should develop action plans to ensure the inclusion of ethnic, faith and cultural groups under-represented in their services. Advice from, or partnership with, Muslim community groups, should be sought.
- Funders should ensure that organisations they fund have explicit, actioned strategies to include Muslim and other excluded client groups.
One recommendation is aimed at health services:
- GPs and mental health support services should be aware of the profound impact, particularly on the women in the family, of having a relative in the criminal justice system.
The final two recommendations are aimed at Muslim communities:
- Mosques and Imams should have training to enable them to provide support and basic counselling to meet the needs of Muslim families with relatives in the criminal justice system.
- Those with influence in the community should encourage heads of families to involve women relatives in discussion of important issues affecting the family, even when these are difficult or relate to “izzat” (honour).
Arooj does not have a website but can be contacted by phone: 01282 219594 or email: [email protected]