Keep up-to-date with drugs and crime

The latest research, policy, practice and opinion on our criminal justice and drug & alcohol treatment systems
Search
Muslims, prisons and mental health
Raheel Mohammed of Maslaha describes the new Coming Home service designed to help Muslims released from prison with their mental health issues.

Share This Post

This is a guest post by Zahbia Yousuf of  Maslaha, an organisation which seeks to change and challenge the conditions that create inequalities for Muslim communities in areas such as education, gender, criminal justice, health, negative media coverage and a continued climate of Islamophobia. 

Coming Home

Maslaha has been looking into the specific mental health challenges that Muslims in prison face. While Muslims make up 18% of the prison population of England and Wales (5% of the general population), their experiences are widely under researched or talked about. In response to their findings, Maslaha has launched Coming Home, a free, confidential counselling service provided by Muslim therapists for Muslims (and their families) harmed by the prison system.

 

Data about and services for mental health concerns in prison are generally lacking. In 2021, the prison service admitted that “The criminal justice system is failing people with a mental illness’. In 2021, Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell said: ‘At every stage, their needs are being missed and they face unacceptable delays in getting support.’

 

He also recognised that Black, Asian and minority ethnic people are both overrepresented at every stage of the criminal justice system and at comparatively higher risk of mental illness. Inspectors found a lack of specialist services for these individuals.

 

This is compounded by the lack of data about mental health concerns and problems in prison. The Ministry of Justice admitted in a House of Commons Justice Committee that it had little information on the extent of mental illness in prisons  – partly because any assessment that may be done is only conducted at reception into prison.

Understanding

To understand the mental health concerns of Muslims in prison, Maslaha spoke to those who have been through the prison system, prison staff, as well academics and mental health practitioners. We asked them what mental health concerns Muslims have in prison, and how accessible, appropriate and useful services are. We also looked at the wider carceral environment and the impact that has.

The prison service itself admits that “the criminal justice process itself can have a severe and negative impact on someone’s mental health, especially if they are already unwell”. Muslim – and other Black and brown people – report significantly more negative experiences in prison. Annual reports by the Chief Inspector of Prisons show that a disproportionate number of Muslims report: 

  • Not receiving basic care 
  • Not being treated respectfully by staff or able to turn to them for help 
  • Not easily being able to make complaints 

Our research shows that for racialised groups such as Muslims, additional racism and surveillance creates significant added distress. Being Muslim draws greater attention from prison staff, and practicing faith openly can be seen as suspicious. Tarek Younis, a clinical psychologist who has worked with a number of Muslims in prison and immigration detention, points to the

‘prison as a violent space, the weight of which falls disproportionally on Muslims’.

He describes it as

‘spiritual violence – the suffocation and anxiety they [Muslims] have, wanting to practice their faith but, being under surveillance all the time, they are afraid this might have adverse consequences for them.’

Religious freedom

Interviews with prison staff and those who have been incarcerated, suggests that Muslim men in prison can be banned from Friday prayers for minor infractions of prison rules. We’ve been told how prison authorities use the threat of denying them their religious freedom as leverage. As one former inmate said:

“They know that’s the one thing that will get to a Muslim – if he’s not going to get to Friday prayers. That’s their best threat.”

As a result, Muslims have said they are less likely to reach out for support for their mental health when there’s little trust in prison staff and interactions have been negative. Others who have asked for support, also described mixed responses from staff from not being taken seriously to in an extreme case, one Muslim being told ‘to go ahead and kill yourself.’ Others simply said, they kept concerns to themselves as they didn’t know there was mental health support available.

For many people we spoke to, their faith was an important resource to draw comfort from. One person described that while many around him were self-harming, he turned to prayer to give him strength, even in solitary confinement. However, mental health practitioners often dismiss the possibility of faith as a tool for wellbeing, and do not recognise or engage with it in their practice. Dr Younis reflects that not only is the prison inducing a state of stress, but it is also inhibiting people’s ability to get better through its management of Islam.

Muslims face unique challenges in prison, and may be hesitant to seek mental health support through public services – both during their time in prison and when they come out. Coming Home was developed based on Maslaha’s research, and in collaboration with community organisations and those who have been through the prison system. It was crucial that it responded to the specific concerns Muslims face in prison – recognising the harm caused by incarceration and the distinct experiences racialised communities have, as well as providing a space that acknowledges faith as a potential wellbeing tool. In contrast to many conventional mental health services, Coming Home offers a religiously and culturally positive approach, provided by Muslim therapists.

Coming Home is co-developed by Maslaha, The Lantern Initiative and Dr Tarek Younis.

For more information about Coming Home see here or:

 Email the project

 

Thanks to Hannah Berry for kind permission to use the image in this blog post.

Share This Post

Related posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Prison posts are sponsored by Unilink

 

Excellence through innovation

Unilink, Europe’s provider of Offender/Probation Management Software

Privacy Preference Center

Subscribe

Get every blog post by email for free