USA: There Are 11,073 Muslims In Federal Prisons But Just 13 Chaplains To Minister To Them

The previous conservative government largely cancelled the chaplain program with respect to non-Christian chaplains in 2012 (Non-Christian prison chaplains chopped by Ottawa). Not sure what the current situation is:

Abdul Muhaymin al-Salim converted to Islam during his incarceration on drug charges at a federal prison in South Carolina from 2004 to 2014. In his first year there, the 49-year-old remembers a Muslim volunteer coming to the prison a couple of times a month to lead religious services.

Then, in the second year, during Ramadan, a holy month for Muslims, the volunteer was no longer allowed in the prison. Al-Salim never found out why.

“There were instances where we could have been denied or not received the proper representation or resources that we needed,” he said.

Muslims, the third-largest faith group in federal prisons, are significantly underrepresented among the chaplaincy, according to a Department of Justice inspector general report released last week. Currently, 6% of federal prison chaplains are Muslim, while 9.4% of inmates identified as Muslim.

As of March 2020, 199 of the 236 federal prison chaplains, or 84%, were Protestant Christian, even though that faith group makes up only 34% of inmates. There were no more than 13 Muslim chaplains in the past six years working at federal prisons — and that number remains today, even though the number of Muslim inmates has grown during that time, to 11,073.

Table showing federal inmates by religion

The challenges in recruiting Muslim chaplains have persisted within the Federal Bureau of Prisons for years, the report says. In response to a 2004 inspector general report that highlighted a significant shortage in Muslim chaplains, the bureau said it tried to attract a greater number through an on-site program that allowed prison employees to acquire the necessary skills to become a chaplain. But those efforts were unsuccessful, resulting in only one Muslim chaplain trained since 2006. And the number of Muslim inmates has more than doubled since then.

“Oftentimes, this will have a negative effect because you’re left to the whims of whoever is in charge of the chaplain’s department,” said al-Salim, who now works at the Tayba Foundation, where he mentors incarcerated Muslims. “There’s nobody there to help them gain that grounding that they need.”

The needs of the federal prisons’ Muslim population are underserved without chaplains, Muslim leaders say. Because most religious services have to be led by a chaplain, not having Muslim clergy means the services get canceled. When Muslim chaplains are employed, they also make sure Muslim inmates have access to books, prayer rugs and halal meals and that they can freely practice their faith.

Why prospective prison chaplains have been discouraged from applying

“The Bureau of Prisons is committed to ensuring that inmates of all faiths can practice their religion and participate in religious services while also maintaining appropriate safety and security measures,” spokesperson Donald Murphy told NPR in a statement.

Based on recommendations from the inspector general’s office, the bureau is “making changes to improve management and oversight over its chaplaincy program,” Murphy added.

To recruit additional Muslim chaplains, the bureau said it is working with current prison chaplains and seminaries to find candidates.

The bureau is also considering waiving requirements that chaplains must be a certain age, have a graduate-level theological degree and have completed coursework in interfaith study. That would make it easier for religious leaders like Imam Sami Shamma. A chaplain at the Connecticut Department of Corrections for over eight years, Shamma said he hasn’t been eligible for a federal position because he is 65 — over the 37-year age limit for appointment. Neither could Imam Abu Qadir al-Amin, who wanted to be a chaplain at a federal prison in Dublin, Calif., where he volunteered. But he couldn’t qualify because he didn’t have access to higher education.

“Some of the more effective leaders are not necessarily people who went to school for what they’re doing now,” al-Amin said. “They’re more inspired leaders that can make a real contribution to people’s lives who are in that restricted environment and need someone who understands their lifestyle, what led them to be there in the first place, and then can more appropriately develop strategies that address the needs of them returning.”

There’s another reason it’s difficult to recruit Muslim chaplains: Ordination is required by the bureau, but Muslims do not formally ordain religious leaders. And often Muslim communities live far from the prisons, requiring the chaplains and their families to relocate. In addition, Muslim chaplains in correctional facilities often face criticism by people claiming that they are spreading an extremist interpretation of Islam to the prisoners, according to a Harvard University report.

In the meantime, the prisons are filling the gap through contracted religious services providers and trained chapel volunteers. But even with volunteers and contractors, who don’t work full time, there is only one Muslim chaplain per 176 inmates, according to the latest inspector general report.

“If they’re actively recruiting Muslim chaplains and they want to employ Muslim chaplains in the federal system, then they should maybe sit down with Muslim leaders in the community and discuss a strategy for filling that vacuum,” al-Amin said.

Despite the chaplain shortage, the bureau has made incremental progress in accommodating Muslims’ religious practices. In 2019, for instance, it changed its guidelines to allow Muslim inmates to pray in groups.

State prisons face a similar shortage of Muslim chaplains

There’s also a shortage of Muslim chaplains at state prisons, Shamma says. While he used to rely on volunteers to help, they have not been allowed to do so during the pandemic. That has sometimes meant canceled services for the almost 200 inmates he serves.

Some state prisons, with larger Muslim populations, have better resources.

Tariq MaQbool, a 44-year-old Muslim incarcerated at the New Jersey State Prison, told NPR through the Prison Journalism Project that the Muslim chaplain there is a “blessing.” He regularly attends Friday prayers and Islamic talks led by the chaplain.

But MaQbool is still advocating for other ways to practice his faith, including access to halal meals and Islamic literature.

Source: There Are 11,073 Muslims In Federal Prisons But Just 13 Chaplains To Minister To Them

Muslims Over-Represented In US State Prisons, Report Finds

Unfortunately, we do not have comparable data for Canada although I suspect we are better at accommodation (however, it does not appear that the Liberal government restored the Conservative cuts in 2012 to non-Christian chaplaincy services, or at least couldn’t find any evidence they had):

Muslims make up about 9% of state prisoners, though they are only about 1% of the U.S. population, a new report from the civil rights organization Muslim Advocates finds. The report, released Thursday, is the most comprehensive count of Muslims in state prisons so far.

The report also sheds light on the obstacles some incarcerated Muslims face in prison while practicing their faith.

“Getting a picture of the religious preference of state prisoners is, we think, really important and unique,” said Yusuf Saei, the author of the report.

Muslim Advocates requested religious preference data from every state, and based its report on the records it received from 34 states and Washington D.C. Previous data on the religious preference of federal prisoners show that Muslims make up about 12% of that population, but that’s just a small slice of a much bigger picture.

“There are roughly 200,000 federal prisoners and more than 1.3 million state prisoners,” Saei said. “We can say with a high degree of confidence this is one of the most comprehensive looks at religious preference data.” The report only focused on the Muslim population in state prisons.

Knowing how many Muslims are in state prisons, Saei said, helps prison officials understand the importance of respecting religious practice for a significant and growing portion of people in prison. The report also compiled 163 lawsuits between October 2017 and January 2019 in which Muslims alleged their right to practice was being violated.

“Incarcerated Muslims are asking for very basic things: religiously compliant food, books, prayer mats. But they’re not receiving them in many states,” Saei said. “This idea of religious liberty is baked into the U.S. Constitution and federal law specifically protects the religious liberty of prisoners. But our report shows that many state prisons are arbitrarily and illegally preventing incarcerated Muslims from practicing their faith.”

The report compared state policies and found they were inconsistent. Some are very accommodating; others are not accommodating at all. For example, the report finds that only 17 states specifically allow religious head coverings. It also finds that more and more states are fully accommodating Muslim dietary requirements–halal-certified meals. But there are states that still make access to alternative meals difficult or impossible.

“Many state policies do provide for full accommodation of Muslim diet requests. Others, however, provide diminished diet substitutes or no substitutes at all,” the report said. “And in some cases, the paucity of diet accommodations may coerce individuals into violating their dietary beliefs.”

The report provides examples of the inconsistent and in some cases burdensome state policies for Muslim prisoners. In Nevada, for example, to get a meat-substitute diet a prisoner has to pass a diet accommodation interview. In North Dakota, there is a “60-day sincerity test” for anyone who changes religions and has a new religious dietary requirement as part of the practice.

The report recommends some straightforward policies for prisons to facilitate Muslim religious practices such as permitting individual and group prayers for Muslims and training officers on how to make that happen. It also recommends giving prisoners with works assignments days off on their religious holidays, creating clear policies on burial practices that allow for Muslims to be buried within their faith traditions and allowing religious head coverings for men and women.

Prisoners’ religious practice is legally protected by the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, passed by Congress in 2000. That law states the government can’t impede a prisoner’s free exercise of religion without a compelling reason.

“Things that I want to do or congregate activities that I might want to engage in with other prisoners, if they’re done in the name of religion have a higher degree of protection than those same activities such as gathering together or studying together if they’re not done in the name of religion,” said Martin Horn. He teaches at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and is the former secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.

He said for the most part, state prisons respect federal law that protects religious practice for prisoners. And when prisoners sue over violations of religious practice, it’s difficult for the state to win.

“The state has a very high burden to overcome to avoid allowing them to practice their faith at all and that means not allowing the prayer books, not allowing them to gather for prayer, not allowing access to services of an Imam,” Horn said. “Once something is considered a religious practice, it has to be allowed unless there is a substantial burden on the state and there is no other way to mitigate that burden.”

But advocates point to cases like the recent execution of a Muslim prisonerin Alabama earlier this year. His request for an Imam to be present when he was put to death was denied by the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision. The majority opinion said the prisoner had waited too long to make the request. In the dissenting opinion, Justice Elena Kagan wrote that the decision was “profoundly wrong.”

And Muslim prison chaplains say the current political climate affects the treatment of Muslim prisoners. That’s problematic for people with so little control over their lives.

Tariq Aquil, the Muslim chaplain credited with developing the halal meal program in California’s state prisons, said he saw that play out before he retired in 2017. Like when a Muslim prisoner’s prayer time coincided with the inmate count.

“The guard sees that he’s literally praying and he sees that he’s actually in his cell so he could literally count him right there, ‘I can see you, you’re praying so I know you haven’t escaped,” Aquil said. “But they would stop, they would yell at him and they would curse him.”

Because he was praying rather than responding to the roll call.

Some decisions made by the prisons that are obstacles to Muslims practicing their faith come out of ignorance, concerns about costs, like meal plans, or real security concerns like an emergency in the middle of Friday prayer, Aquil said.

But corrections officers live in the real world, he said, and the anti-immigrant, racist and anti-Muslim rhetoric spouted by the current administration has an impact.

“Those of us who’ve worked in an environment where we’re trained are told that we should leave our political and any other attitudes that we have at the front gate when we come to work and that we should treat everyone equal,” Aquil said. “Very few human beings that I know of have this on and off switch where they simply can disengage from hearing last night ‘lock her up’ or ‘send her back’ and then come into the prison and see the people who are attired in the same way or have the same face or something like that. So sometimes it’s subtle and sometimes it’s much more overt.”

Also, Aquil said it’s important to note that over-representation of Muslims in prison isn’t indicative of a lot of Muslims being arrested and convicted.

“About 90 percent of incarcerated Muslims in the United States become Muslims during their incarceration,” he said. “Most of the people that are in prison tend to be repeat offenders and so at some point in time they seem to become aware that they have run the gambit and maybe it’s time for a change.”

Source: Muslims Over-Represented In State Prisons, Report Finds

Black people awaiting trial in Ontario jails spend longer in custody than white people

Good data-based analysis and discussion on the factors behind the data:

Black people in Canada’s most populous province spent longer behind bars awaiting trial than white people charged with many of the same categories of crimes in each of the past five years, according to data obtained by Reuters.

Between April 2015 and April 2016 — the most recent period in which data is available — black people awaiting trial in Ontario jails were there longer, on average, than white people charged with the same crime in 11 of 16 offence categories Reuters examined. There were approximately 6,000 black people and nearly 26,000 white people remanded to pre-trial detention during the period.

The data showed similar patterns in the four prior years.

Among the categories examined, black people spent almost twice as long in remand in 2015-2016 for weapons offences, equivalent to an additional 38 days. They also spent 46 per cent longer for serious violent offences and 36 per cent longer on charges of obstructing justice.

In three categories, white people awaiting trial were held longer in remand during the same period. Those included drug possession, theft and traffic offences. In two categories, the difference was 1 per cent or less.

The data also showed black people arrested and held in custody between 2011 and 2016 were more likely than white people to spend more than a year in pre-trial detention.

Reuters obtained the previously unreported data through access-to-information requests from Ontario, which asks inmates to indicate their race when they enter jail. Other provinces either do not collect this data or categorize it differently.

A spokesperson for Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi said the province “takes systemic racism seriously and is working to address racial inequities,” but declined to comment on the data. The Ontario Crown Attorneys’ Association, which represents the province’s prosecutors, and the Association of Justices of the Peace, which represents the people who decide most of Ontario’s bail cases, declined to comment.

More than a dozen defence lawyers as well as prosecutors, criminologists, and a judge interviewed by Reuters said shortcomings in Canada’s bail system appeared to play a role in the racial disparities shown in the data.

Unlike the United States, Canada virtually eliminated cash bail almost half a century ago. Instead, courts often require prisoners awaiting trial to secure a surety, meaning a relative or close friend who can appear in court and subsequently monitor them.

A surety needs assets to pledge, a crime-free record and, often, a home where the accused person can live until the case is complete. A surety cannot represent more than one defendant at a time.

Current and former prosecutors interviewed for this story said securing a surety can be onerous and the requirement is perhaps relied upon too often; but some said sureties remain the best way to protect the public and ensure defendants show up for trial.

Harder on the poor

Critics of the system say the poor are less likely than middle-class or wealthy people to have connections to provide the assets to pledge or housing to act as a surety. They add that this has an outsized impact on minorities, who are over-represented among Canada’s poor.

“Surety is a huge issue in Ontario,” said Nicole Myers, a criminologist at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. “If you are from a marginalized community or a criminalized community, it can be very difficult to find a surety the court deems appropriate.”

The data did not take into account specifics of each case, the person’s criminal record, the frequency of plea deals, whether the person had a bail hearing and why bail may have been denied.

Reuters focused on offences with the largest pre-trial populations when comparing the average periods in remand, to minimize the impact of outliers. Inmates charged in multiple offence categories were counted in only the more serious one; multiple charges could affect someone’s chances of getting bail.

Studies, including one published last year by the Ottawa police, have found Ontario’s black communities are more heavily policed than white ones.

Source: Black people awaiting trial in Ontario jails spend longer in custody than white people – Toronto – CBC News

Inside French Prisons, A Struggle To Combat Radicalization : NPR

Good long-read on the challenges of radicalization and French prisons:

Yannis Warrach, a Muslim cleric who works in his spare time at a top-security prison in Normandy, says prison is so brutal, inmates can only survive if they’re part of a gang. He has seen how the radicals recruit newcomers.

“The ones who preach and proselytize will at first be nice to a detainee. They see his desperation,” he says. “They’ll befriend him, give him what he needs. Then they’ll say it’s destiny. They’ll say that God has a mission for him. And little by little, they brainwash him, telling him French society has rejected him, he can’t get a job because of his Arab last name, and he was always put in the worst classes at school.

“The problem is,” says Warrach, “it’s often true.”

Warrach says these young men must have hope for a different future to break out of the spiral of failure. He says French leaders have failed to change the socioeconomic factors that keep many French people of Muslim descent on the bottom rungs of the ladder.

Another big problem, he says, is the prevalence of hard-line, Salafist reading material in jails — often French translations of Saudi, Wahhabist tracts that advocate literal, strict interpretation of religious doctrine.

“I work to debunk this stuff,” says Warrach. “I give inmates under pressure a historical context of the faith and another narrative of Islam.”

He says that because of the pressure from radicals, who consider him an agent of the French government, he has to meet secretly with inmates who desperately want his help. Instead of meeting in rooms designated for religious worship, which are open, they meet in special prison visiting rooms for inmates’ lawyers, where no one can observe them.

Because of its strict separation of religion and state, Warrach says France is the only country in Europe where being a prison cleric is not considered a profession. He says he only receives a small stipend, but that he can’t build a life around it — there are no retirement plans or other benefits. Because of this, there can’t be an imam at the prison every day, which creates a huge void, he says. And it leaves plenty of room for uninformed, extremist interpretations of Islam in French prisons.

Source: Inside French Prisons, A Struggle To Combat Radicalization : Parallels : NPR

Le coût de la diète religieuse bondit dans les prisons

Part of the cost of living in a diverse society and respecting different faiths:

Le coût des repas religieux servis dans les prisons québécoises a bondi au cours de la dernière année, en particulier en ce qui concerne les mets préparés pour les détenus de confession juive. Un repas casher en prison coûte maintenant deux fois plus cher qu’un repas non religieux, a appris La Presse. Portrait de la diète carcérale, un régime de 12,6 millions par année.

Chaque repas casher servi en centre de détention a coûté 6,98 $ pendant l’année financière 2015-2016, contre 5,25 $ un an plus tôt, selon des données du ministère de la Sécurité publique (MSP) rendues publiques par la Loi sur l’accès à l’information. Selon le Ministère, ce bond de 33 % en un an est la conséquence de la résiliation du précédent contrat pour l’achat de repas cashers congelés.

« Durant la période sans contrat, les établissements de détention ont dû s’approvisionner auprès de fournisseurs locaux, à coûts plus élevés. »

– Louise Quintin, porte-parole du ministère de la Sécurité publique

Un nouveau contrat de deux ans pour l’approvisionnement de repas cashers congelésa d’ailleurs été conclu en décembre dernier pour 223 582 $. Une seule des deux soumissions déposées a été jugée admissible. En vertu du contrat, le fournisseur doit préparer jusqu’à 35 058 repas et les livrer dans quatre centres de détention de la région métropolitaine. Plus de 20 000 repas cashers sont destinés à l’Établissement de détention de Montréal (Bordeaux). Les autres sont partagés entre les prisons de Laval, de Saint-Jérôme et de Rivière-des-Prairies.

 Les 11 759 plats cashers servis en 2015-2016 – en hausse de 15 % par rapport à l’année précédente – représentent à peine 0,17 % des quelque 7 millions de repas servis chaque année dans les prisons provinciales. En incluant les coûts de la main-d’oeuvre, la préparation de chaque repas non religieux a coûté 3,27 $ en 2015-2016, une hausse de 6 % en un an, soit trois fois plus que l’inflation. La facture a donc bondi de 516 000 $ pour la diète standard, même si 34 000 repas de moins ont été servis.

Le coût unitaire d’un repas halal a augmenté de 14 % en un an, passant de 3,61 $ à 4,10 $, en raison de la cherté de la viande halal, selon le Ministère. Ainsi, les 91 988 plats préparés en 2015-2016 pour les détenus de confession musulmane ont coûté 124 646 $, en hausse de 10 %. Ces repas sont généralement préparés à partir de viande hachée halal achetée en « très petite quantité » pour remplacer le boeuf d’un hamburger, par exemple.

« Il est important de souligner que le nombre de repas halal a diminué [de 7 %] […]. De plus, notons que les repas cashers et halal servis dans les établissements de détention représentent moins de 2 % de l’ensemble des repas servis en détention », soutient Louise Quintin. En fait, la diète religieuse représente 1,47 % de tous les repas servis en prison provinciale.

Les centres de détention ont l’obligation d’offrir un repas halal ou casher à un détenu qui en fait la demande écrite. L’administration doit alors valider « l’appartenance à la communauté religieuse du demandeur ainsi que la sincérité de sa croyance », explique Mme Quintin. Un détenu peut démontrer sa croyance religieuse par un document pertinent, par sa connaissance de sa religion ou par sa participation à des activités spirituelles.

Source: Le coût de la diète religieuse bondit dans les prisons | Louis-Samuel Perron | Actualités

Prisons pay more for native spiritual services than all other faiths combined

While the issue may be more underfunding of chaplain services for other religions than overfunding of Indigenous spiritual services, it is nevertheless an interesting disparity, particularly given that relatively few Indigenous peoples according the 2011 NHS practice Aboriginal spirituality (less than 5 percent).

The previous government’s cut to chaplaincy services and subsequent restoration may also have played a part (Corrections Canada reverses course on chaplains | Toronto Star):

Canada’s federal prisons are paying significantly more each year for indigenous spiritual services than for all other religions combined.

Indigenous populations are grossly overrepresented in the prison population, a systemic issue. But statistics show that only five per cent of offenders identify as having “native spirituality.”

Still, the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) is spending $8 million annually on sustaining spiritual services for those offenders — versus its $6.75 million ceiling for other religions.

Spokesperson Avely Serin said Elder services help offenders follow a “traditional healing path” and provide advice to the heads of institutions about “access to ceremonial objects and traditional medicines within the institution.”

As of last October, 85 per cent of indigenous offenders in custody, or 3,156, had undergone an “Elder review,” which requires multiple meetings, according to Serin.

Meanwhile, in the 2015-16 year, chaplaincy services registered 407,639 individual contacts with offenders. That number includes attendance at religious services and faith-based educational sessions, along with individual counselling.

The correctional service takes “a lot of criticism for the overrepresentation of First Nations people in the prison system,” said Catherine Latimer, executive director at the John Howard Society. She suggested that could be one reason for the extra funding.

Indigenous people make up a quarter of the prison population versus 4.3 per cent of the general population, according to Canada’s Correctional Investigator. And 31 per cent of female prisoners are indigenous.

Latimer questioned the fairness of offering different amounts of spiritual support based on ethnicity.

Indigenous offenders do have better outcomes when “reconnected with their spiritual and cultural traditions,” said the Correctional Investigator of Canada’s annual report for 2014-15.

But spiritual services help offenders of other religions, too, said Kate Johnson, a former chaplain at Joyceville Institution in Kingston, Ont.

Almost half of offenders are Christian, a majority of those Catholic, and just over five per cent are Muslim. About 15 per cent report having no religion.

“Chaplains generally are the people who provide that kind of bridge from institution to community,” said Johnson, now chaplain at Queen’s University after leaving corrections three years ago. “The better care we provide for somebody, the less likely they are to reoffend.”

Source: Prisons pay more for native spiritual services than all other faiths combined | National Post

The Cost of Multiculturalism: Canadians Turn Blind Eye to Race Despite a Staggering Black Incarceration Rate – Atlanta Black Star

A reminder:

Black Canadians are jailed more than their white counterparts and part of the issue is that Canadians don’t believe they have a race problem. They stay silent on the issue.

Howard Sapers, a Canadian correctional investigator, presented an annual report to the parliament that showed Blacks in the country continue to be disproportionately imprisoned. Since Sapers started his position in 2005, he said has seen the Black prison population increase steadily. In total, the number of Black inmates has grown 69 percent.

Torontoist reports African-Canadians account for 10 percent of the federal prison population even though they only make up 3 percent of the general population. A similar statistic rings true for American prisons. Blacks make up 37 percent of the prison population and 13 percent of the general U.S. population.

Despite Canada’s Black imprisonment rates not being that far off from American rates, African-Canadian rights advocate Anthony Morgan says Canadians don’t think they face racial issues. Instead, the silence about the alarming rates of Black incarceration stems from the idea that it only affects Americans.

“It has a lot to do with what I’ve called Canadian racial exceptionalism,” he tells Torontoist. “If America is having a conversation about the hyper-incarceration of Black males, in order to maintain our sense of moral superiority, we can’t look into those issues as we experience them here in Canada.”

Though Morgan admits that rates of Black imprisonment are a little higher in America than in Canada, he says myths about Canada’s embrace of multiculturalism also plays a part.

“The truth of the matter is,” Morgan tells the publication, “when you look in our prison systems, if you go to our courthouses, if you go at children’s aid offices, to school detention halls, it is overwhelmingly Black kids who are being criminalized and punished. I think the generalized silence has to do with what we want to believe about ourselves as Canadians.”

Source: The Cost of Multiculturalism: Canadians Turn Blind Eye to Race Despite a Staggering Black Incarceration Rate – Atlanta Black Star

2 Muslim inmates file rights complaints against Alberta prison

Will be interesting to see how the Commission rules.

Underlines the mistake the Government made in cutting back non-Christian chaplains::

Two Muslim inmates have filed complaints with the Canadian Human Rights Commission over their treatment at Grande Cache Institution, a federal prison in northwestern Alberta.

Nicolas Hovanesian, 30, and Mohammed Karim, 35, say they have been called terrorists, subjected to racist jokes and refused adequate time for prayers and ceremonies in the prison chapel.

The alleged incidents took place over the past two years.

Hovanesian told CBC News that Mark McGee, a Catholic priest and chaplain for the past nine years at Grande Cache, would cut short their Friday prayers and limit their access to the chapel. “Like Eid,” Hovanesian said. “We were in the middle of our celebrations and he kicked us out of the chapel because there was a Catholic band practice … our religion was trumped because of band practice.

The men said they were both suspended from the chapel and faced institutional discipline because they refused to call the priest “Father.” While other inmates were allowed to use the washroom in the chapel, Karim said, they were refused access to it to wash before prayers, which is a requirement for Muslims.

In several cases, they said, the priest made disparaging remarks to themselves and others, especially to converts. “Like say, there was a white Muslim, like a convert, he would make comments like, say, ‘You’re white, why are you Muslim, you should be Catholic,'” Hovanesian said.

Dirty blankets as prayer mats

Karim said Muslim inmates were given dirty blankets to use as prayer mats. Then, when several prayer mats and other religious items were donated to the institution by a mosque in Edmonton, the chaplain charged the inmates $20 each to use them. “Some guys here only make $20 every two weeks in pay,” said Hovanesian.

Amira Elghawaby, communications director with the National Council of Canadian Muslims, told CBC News she is aware of the complaints and has heard of similar cases across the country. “There should be a standard of spiritual care that is provided across the board and there should not be any discrimination or any kind,” she said.

“If the government is really serious in ensuring that Canada’s prison system is preparing inmates to eventually be released into society … it’s critical that there is an effort made to ensure that religious and spiritual services are done in a very professional and open manner.”

Source: 2 Muslim inmates file rights complaints against Alberta prison – Canada – CBC News

Scant evidence prisons are terrorist breeding grounds – Macleans.ca

Sharp contrast to France (and likely UK) where this is a serious issue and good to see this kind of research taking place notwithstanding some of the political fearmongering:

Federal prisons are not the hotbeds of radical extremism some make them out to be, according to research by the Correctional Service of Canada.

And compared to other inmates, radicalized offenders are more likely to have moderate-to-high potential for rejoining society.

The preliminary findings emerge from an ongoing, multi-year collaboration between the prison service and Defence Research and Development Canada aimed at developing a solid basis to assess and manage jailed extremists.

The Canadian Press used the Access to Information Act to obtain a 2014 summary of a series of academic studies undertaken by the Correctional Service’s research branch. Internal notes suggest the presentation, Radicalized Offenders, was prepared for the deputy ministers’ committee on national security.

“Though concern over the spread of violent ideologies has been expressed, this concern is supported by limited qualitative, anecdotal evidence,” says the presentation.

“Researchers have concluded that many of those who adopt extremist Islamist ideologies during incarceration often disregard these beliefs upon release.”

However, the presentation adds, there is a need for a greater understanding of just how susceptible inmates are to being radicalized behind bars.

One of the gunmen in the bloody attack on Paris-based satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo last January had come under the sway of a convicted terrorist while in prison – the sort of incident that has fuelled concern about the spread of radical ideas in jail.

As of this month, there were 19 offenders in Canadian federal prisons who had at least one affiliation with an extremist or terrorist organization, including racial extremists, the Correctional Service says. Of these, nine had been convicted of at least one terrorism-related offence.

Researchers found that compared to other inmates, radicalized offenders are less likely to be Canadian citizens and more likely to belong to a visible minority group.

They are also younger, better educated, more likely to have a history of stable employment and less likely to have had previous tangles with the criminal justice system. Radicalized offenders also have fewer mental health issues and problems with substance abuse.

Overall, they are more likely “to be assessed as having moderate-high reintegration potential,” the presentation says.

A review of the research literature identified several factors that might make someone vulnerable to being radicalized, including poor support at home, a history of family violence, negative attitudes towards conventional society and a tendency to lodge grievances.

Though more research is needed, focus group discussions with staff working in prisons and the community identified two distinct groups of susceptible offenders.

The first type were socially unattached, unskilled and likely to be recruited to carry out a group’s mundane “dirty work.” The second kind were socially connected, educated and recruited for their skills and abilities.

Scant evidence prisons are terrorist breeding grounds – Macleans.ca.

French prisons, long hotbeds of radical Islam, get new scrutiny after Paris attacks – The Washington Post

More on French prisons and radicalization:

France’s prisons have a reputation as factories for radical Islamists, taking in ordinary criminals and turning them out as far more dangerous people. Here at the Fleury-Merogis prison — where Amedy Coulibaly did time alongside another of the attackers in the deadly assaults this month in and around Paris — authorities are struggling to quell a problem that they say was long threatening to explode.

Former inmates, imams and guards all describe a chaotic scene inside these concrete walls, 15 miles from the elegant boulevards surrounding the Eiffel Tower. Militancy lurks in the shadows, and the best-behaved men are sometimes the most dangerous. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls promised last week to flood his nation’s prisons with 60 more Muslim chaplains, doubling their budget to try to combat radicalization. Authorities this week raided 80 prison cells of suspected radicals, saying they found cellphones, USB drives and other contraband. Hundreds of inmates in French prisons are a potential threat, authorities say.

But critics say that these efforts are minuscule compared with the scope of the problem, with prisons so poorly controlled that a leaked French government report once described Osama bin Laden posters hanging on inmates’ walls. The challenge may be compounded by the dozens of people sent to jail after the recent attacks, some for more than a year, under fast-track proceedings in which they were charged with verbal support for terrorism.

“Prison destroys men,” said Mohamed Boina M’Koubou, an imam who works in the Fleury-Merogis prison. “There are people who are easy targets to spot and make into killers.”

French prisons, long hotbeds of radical Islam, get new scrutiny after Paris attacks – The Washington Post.