Prisons should focus on secular programmes, not on religious interventions

Prisons should avoid making a fetish of faith and treat prisoners equally, regardless of their religion or belief, the British Humanist Association (BHA) has said today. The BHA has made comments following the publication of a report by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons on Muslims in prison.

Naomi Phillips, BHA Head of Public Affairs, said, ‘The Labour government’s strategy was effectively to hand over control of the rehabilitation of some of the most vulnerable people in our society to religious organisations. This is despite the previous government admitting that there is no credible evidence that “faith-based” interventions actually have any direct impact on re-offending rates. Neither is there evidence that religious organisations have better, measurable outcomes than inclusive secular organisations. 

‘Today’s report from HM Chief Inspector of Prisons recommends that staff should engage with Muslims as individual prisoners with specific risks and needs, rather than as part of a separate  group – yet the seemingly large and growing emphasis on meeting religious needs, even to the point where prisoners feel the need to convert, is surely counterintuitive to that aim. It is a potentially dangerous and damaging path to follow which would see prisoners being seen and engaged with primarily on grounds of their religious identity.

Ms Phillips continued, ‘Prisoners should have real and equal chances in prison to rehabilitate, through inclusive, secular, programmes. Pastoral support and care may address some particular needs of prisoners whether religious or non-religious, but religious interventions must be totally voluntary and always and only be supplementary to those secular programmes.’

Notes

For any further questions or information, please contact Naomi Phillips, 07540 257 101 or on 020 7079 3585.

Read more about the BHA’s work on public service reform.

Download the report Muslim prisoners’ experiences: A thematic review.

The British Humanist Association (BHA) is the national charity representing and supporting the growing population of ethically concerned, non-religious. It is the largest organisation in the UK campaigning for a secular state and an end to discrimination based on religion or belief.