Exploring the nature of muslim groups and related gang activity in 3 high security prisons

A report summarising a qualitative study to explore the nature of Muslim groups and related gang activity in 3 high security prisons.

Summary:

Understanding the nature and drivers of prison groups and gangs and the impact they can both have on the prison environment is important for the management of establishments, safety of staff and prisoners and also for offender rehabilitation.

The few UK studies exploring prison gangs suggest there is some gang presence but perhaps not to the same extent as that found in the US, where prison gangs are highly structured and organised with considerable control over the prison.

Research in an English high security prison showed that Muslim gangs, formed for criminal purposes, can present both a management challenge due to criminal behaviour and also sometimes through the risk of radicalisation. However, prisoners who form into friendship groups for support, companionship and through shared interests should not be confused with gangs formed for criminal purposes. It is therefore important to understand the differences between prison group and gangs and distinguish between them.

This study aims to further our knowledge in this area by defining and describing prisoner groups, exploring the presence and nature of prison gangs and the impact they have on prison life within three High Security prisons in England. A qualitative approach was used with interviews being conducted with 83 randomly selected adult male prisoners located on the main wings and 73 staff from a range of disciplines across the three establishments. Interviews were analysed using thematic analysis that was both inductive and deductive. The findings should be viewed with a degree of cautions as the views presented may not be representative of all prisoners or staff.

The study found the main prisoner group to be a large, diverse group of prisoners who connected through a shared Muslim faith. Respondents were questioned on the presence of other prisoner groups but none were considered to be as dominant or significant when compared to the Muslim group. Membership offered many supportive benefits including friendship, support and religious familiarity.

A small number of prisoners within the group were perceived by those interviewed to be operating as a gang under the guise of religion and were reported to cause a significant management issue at each establishment. The gang had clearly defined membership roles including leaders, recruiters, enforcers, followers and foot-soldiers. Violence, bullying and intimidation were prevalent with the gang, using religion as an excuse to victimise others. The gang was perceived to be responsible for the circulation of the majority of the contraband goods in the establishments.

Gang Leaders. Leaders were reported to have their own hierarchy with a leader for the entire establishment, each wing and landing. They tended to be born into the faith, were often Arabic speaking and perceived to have a greater knowledge of Islam, presenting themselves as scholars to others. However, this was questioned by some prisoners with knowledge of the faith, as one Muslim prisoner stated: ‘People who’re leading them aren’t intelligent. They read the Koran and make it fit with their life and their own beliefs. They don’t fit their life around the religion.’

Motivations for joining the gang were varied but centred on criminality, safety, fear, protection and power. Comparisons were made with historic prison gangs and respondents acknowledged that gang problems, especially in the high security prisons, were something staff had always had to manage and would continue to require careful supervision.

The study highlighted the complex nature of groups and gangs in high security prisons in England. This report discusses how the findings can be used to inform management approaches, such as ensuring systems are in place to identify and support prisoners who are particularly vulnerable, improve staff training and education, and the use of culturally matched mentors and external experts.

Contents
1. Summary 3
2. Context 5
3. Approach 7
3.1 Participants 7
3.2 Materials 7
3.3 Procedure 8
3.4 Analysis 8
4. Results 10
4.1 Presence, nature and purpose of Muslim groups and gangs 10
4.2 Gang structure and roles 11
4.3 Motivations for joining a gang 13
4.4 Behaviour of gang 14
4.5 Impact of gangs on prisoners and staff 15
4.6 Leaving the gang 16
5. Conclusions 17 References

Read the Report

Birmingham Prison – A Troubled History

HMP Birmingham, one of the country’s largest jails, has seen soaring drug-fuelled violence and serious disorder in recent years.

In December 2016, while run by G4S, the category B prison was rocked by the worst outbreak of rioting at an English jail in more than two decades.

Inmates caused widespread damage after seizing control of four wings and releasing 500 prisoners from their cells during the disturbance – which lasted for more than 12 hours.

Riot squads had to be deployed to the prison after reports of prisoners setting fire to stairwells and destroying paper records.

One man, believed to be in his 20s, was taken to hospital with a facial injury as well as cuts and bruises, but no prison staff were injured.

Some 240 prisoners were moved out of the prison as a result.

Seven men were later convicted of prison mutiny for their role in the rioting.

The city centre jail, formerly known as Winson Green, can hold up to 1,450 inmates and was taken over by G4S in 2011.

A June 2017 inspection found it had been gripped by drug-fuelled violence, with many inmates feeling “unsafe” behind bars.

The first official report since the riot concluded there was too much fighting on wings, often triggered by easy access to “problematic” new psychoactive substances.

Half of the prisoners surveyed also told inspectors it was “easy to get drugs”, with one in seven reporting they were getting hooked on drugs while in the jail.

The inspection also found the use of mobile phones and drones to arrange and deliver contraband, such as the highly addictive Spice, over the Victorian jail’s high walls was also “a significant threat”.

Three months later staff were involved in another stand-off with inmates following a disturbance.

A number of prisoners refused to return to their cells at the end of an evening.

Specially trained prison staff resolved the incident, which lasted almost seven hours, with no injuries to staff or prisoners.

The prison made headlines again earlier this month after nine cars were torched during an arson attack on the staff car park.

Two masked men used an angle grinder to cut their way into the parking compound before dousing vehicles in flammable liquid.

Further damage was prevented after the men, one of whom was armed with a handgun, were confronted by two prison staff.

The incident came as an unannounced inspection of the prison was carried out.

The Chief Inspector of Prisons later wrote to the Justice Secretary to raise the “significant concerns” about the state of HMP Birmingham.

Peter Clarke took the step of issuing an urgent notification to David Gauke about the jail, warning it had “slipped into crisis” following a “dramatic deterioration” in the last 18 months.

On Monday it was announced HMP Birmingham was being taken back under Government control.

HMP HAVERIGG – Some progress but safety needs to improve

haverigg

There was a real prospect of improvement at HMP Haverigg but it still had some way to go, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons.

Today he published the report of an unannounced inspection of the training prison in west Cumbria.

HMP Haverigg is perhaps the prison service’s most isolated prison. It had weathered the uncertainties of budget cuts, prison closures and new policies better than most prisons. It had maintained its performance, there was a real sense of momentum and realistic plans were in place to tackle some long-term weaknesses. Nevertheless, outcomes for prisoners were still not good enough in some crucial areas.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • most prisoners said they felt safe, significantly more than at the last inspection and more than at comparable prisons;
  • support for men at risk of suicide or self-harm was consistently good;
  • staff-prisoner relationships were generally very good and mitigated some of the weaknesses in the prison;
  • health care had improved;
  • most prisoners were out of their cells for a decent amount of time during the day;
  • there was a wide range of work, training and education opportunities on offer which were linked to employment prospects in the areas to which most prisoners would return;
  • the ‘smokery’ produced and sold smoked food and provided a very realistic working environment; and
  • practical resettlement services, such as helping prisoners to find accommodation or a job on release, were generally good.

However, inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • a minority of prisoners were subject to gang and debt-related bullying;
  • staff supervision was made difficult by the layout of the prison, with many prisoners accommodated in ‘billets’ or huts, poor external lighting and limited CCTV coverage;
  • not all incidents of violence were identified or investigated and support for victims was poor;
  • the use of segregation had increased, the use of force was high and some incidents were poorly dealt with;
  • the prison needed to improve its equality and diversity work and had little idea of the identity and needs of prisoners with protected characteristics;
  • there were too few work, training and education places available and allocation processes were inefficient; and
  • almost one-third of the population had an out of date or no OASys assessment.

Nick Hardwick said:

“Prisoners who kept their heads down, made the most of the opportunities on offer and whose needs were typical of the prison’s population as a whole would probably do reasonably well at Haverigg. However, those who needed more support or whose needs differed from the majority might have a less positive experience – sometimes to an unacceptable degree. Progress is being made and a positive, experienced staff group have created the foundations for further progress, but some processes need to be significantly improved and managers need to give close attention to ensuring that poor practice is challenged and improved.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive Officer of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), said:

“I am pleased that the Chief Inspector has highlighted the progress being made at Haverigg during a period of real change.

“The wide range of work, training and education is helping to rehabilitate and resettle offenders and the Governor and his staff deserve real credit for the continued improvement.

“They will now use the recommendations in the report as part of their ongoing plans for the future.”

A copy of the report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website from 29 May 2014: www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons

Are Muslims Being Radicalised Inside Our Prisons?

muslimprisoner

‘The Stream’ Tonight on Aljazeera TV.

Are Muslims Being Radicalised Inside Our Prisons?

Join myself & other guests for a one-hour live discussion on this subject tonight on Aljazeera TV at 19:30 GMT – Sky Channel 514 – and you can also catch it live on line at stream.aljazeera.com

Mark Leech

Editor: Converse

The National Prisons Newspaper

Muslim prisoners ‘injured’ after refusing to join Muslim prison gang

fullsutton

An increasing number of Muslim inmates complain they are being intimidated to join the Muslim Brotherhood, a prison gang, and some have received injuries following a refusal to do so.

Mark Leech editor of Converse the national newspaper for prisoners in England and Wales said he was aware of an ‘increasing number of complaints’ from Muslim prisoners in the High Security prison estate who claim to have been intimidated to join the prison-based ‘Muslim Brotherhood’.

Mr Leech said: “Radicalisation of Muslims in the High Security Estate is nothing new and the existence of the Muslim Brotherhood is equally well-known, what I find disturbing is that I have seen an increasing number of Muslim inmates and their families complaining that their loved ones are being intimidated into joining this group and some have received injuries, perhaps unconnected with their refusal, after persistently declining to join.

“One firm of personal injury solicitors I am in touch with confirm they act for a Muslim inmate seriously injured in Full Sutton prison after he continually refused to join the Full Sutton Muslim Brotherhood – unusually and perhaps of significance is the fact that prison staff at HMP Full Sutton have given evidence supporting his case.

“Prison gangs like the Muslim Brotherhood can feed on fear and perpetrate a belief that there is safety in numbers – we should not forget that the Prison Inspection report published in April 2013 on Full Sutton said:

We had two main areas of concern. First, the perceptions of black and minority ethnic prisoners and Muslim prisoners about many aspects of their treatment and conditions were much more negative than for white and non-Muslim prisoners. For example, significantly fewer told us staff treated them with respect and significantly more said they felt unsafe.

“Treating all prisoners with respect and equality is the challenge for the management of Full Sutton, a Maximum Security prison which in so many other respects has shown itself well able to rise to difficult challenges and overcome them – and on this important one it must not be allowed to fail.”

Hostage incident linked to Rigby murder – Muslim inmates intimidated to join prison gang

full sutton

Prison chiefs have linked an attack on a prison officer to the Lee Rigby murder and warned prison staff of an increased risk of threats, according to reports – while an increasing number of Muslim inmates complain they are being intimidated to join the Muslim Brotherhood, a prison gang, and some have received injuries following a refusal to do so.

A male prison officer was left with a broken cheekbone after being held hostage by three male prisoners, two aged 25 and one aged 26, at HMP Full Sutton in Yorkshire on Sunday.

An email circulated to staff in top-security jails and young offender institutions and seen by The Times said: “Three Muslim prisoners took an officer hostage in an office.

“Their demands indicated they supported radical Islamist extremism.

“All staff are reminded to remain vigilant to the increased risk of potential attacks on prison officers inspired by these and last Wednesday’s events.”

Counter-terrorism officers have been brought in to investigate the attack at the maximum security jail, during which a female warder was also injured.

So far, 10 people have been held by detectives investigating the young soldier’s death, including Adebowale and Adebolajo.

These include a 50-year-old man, arrested on Monday, who was released on bail yesterday.

A 22-year-old man arrested in Highbury, north London, on Sunday and three men detained on Saturday over the killing have all been released on bail, as has a fifth man, aged 29.

Two women, aged 29 and 31, were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to murder but later released without charge.

Mark Leech editor of Converse the national newspaper for prisoners in England and Wales said he was aware of an ‘increasing number of complaints’ from Muslim prisoners in the High Security prison estate who claim to have been intimidated to join the prison-based ‘Muslim Brotherhood’.

Mr Leech said: “Radicalisation of Muslims in the High Security Estate is nothing new and the existence of the Muslim Brotherhood is equally well-known, what I find disturbing is that I have seen an increasing number of Muslim inmates and their families complaining that their loved ones are being intimidated into joining this group and some have received injuries, perhaps unconnected with their refusal, after persistently declining to join.

“One firm of personal injury solicitors I am in touch with confirm they act for a Muslim inmate seriously injured in Full Sutton prison after he continually refused to join the Full Sutton Muslim Brotherhood – unusually and perhaps of significance is the fact that prison staff at HMP Full Sutton have given evidence supporting his case.

“Prison gangs like the Muslim Brotherhood can feed on fear and perpetrate a belief that there is safety in numbers – we should not forget that the Prison Inspection report published in April 2013 on Full Sutton said:

We had two main areas of concern. First, the perceptions of black and minority ethnic prisoners and Muslim prisoners about many aspects of their treatment and conditions were much more negative than for white and non-Muslim prisoners. For example, significantly fewer told us staff treated them with respect and significantly more said they felt unsafe.

“Treating all prisoners with respect and equality is the challenge for the management of Full Sutton, a Maximum Security prison which in so many other respects has shown itself well able to rise to difficult challenges and overcome them – and on this important one it must not be allowed to fail.”

RIOTS HAVE CREATED MORE PRISON GANGS


New gangs are forming in prisons as more and more young people are jailed over the riots, a watchdog has said.
Chief inspector of prisons Nick Hardwick said it had been a “challenge to keep young people safe” as hundreds were jailed after last month’s looting and violence.
He said new gangs were forming in prisons and gang activity was growing as more young people were joining for their own protection.
“In some places, young people in particular units have formed themselves into gangs or groups and some young people who have not been involved in gangs before have now joined gangs for protection,” he said.
More than 1,700 people have appeared in court over the disturbances, with one in five aged between 10 and 17, and nine in 10 male, the latest Ministry of Justice figures showed.
The inspector’s comments come after all prison governors in England and Wales were warned last month to take steps to ensure the safety of inmates jailed over the riots after a “nasty” assault between rival gangs left two prisoners in hospital.
The Prison Service sent an email to governors reminding them of the need to warn new inmates of the risks of stating where they live, what gang they may be in, or what team they may support.
Mr Hardwick also said “significant numbers” of young offenders were being placed on suicide watch and other self-harm prevention measures.
Launching his annual report, he said: “Our current inspection programme has given us a good insight into how prisons are coping with the influx of prisoners resulting from the recent disturbances.
“There has been some disruption and stresses.
“It has been a challenge to keep young people safe in particular – both in the existing population and among new arrivals.
“There have been tensions between prisoners, some potentially serious incidents and significant numbers of young people placed on self-harm prevention procedures.
“It is a credit to the staff involved that there have not been more serious incidents.”
Mr Hardwick went on: “Although we have only looked at a small cross-section of prisons and young offender institutions, up to now they have had the capacity to physically absorb the additional numbers.
“But capacity is more than just a question of how many prisoners can be squeezed into the available cells.
“The concern my report highlights is that there will not be sufficient capacity to do anything useful with many of them when they are there.”
Mr Hardwick said too many offenders jailed over the riots will have to sit out their sentences with very little constructive to do and little input to prevent them reoffending.
He went on: “Going to even the best-run prison for only a short time is a very severe punishment indeed.
“I have found no holiday camps.
“But for many short-term prisoners, the reality will be being locked up in a small shared cell with an unscreened toilet for 20 hours a day – with too much access to drugs and negative peer pressure and too little access to work and resettlement help.”
Mr Hardwick added that, for young men in the London area, “their involvement in gangs in the community made them concerned for their safety in prison”.
One inmate at Feltham young offenders institution in west London said: “There have been times when gangs that I have a problem with will see me during visits – and I would have no other choice but to fight.”
A survey of 671 prisoners aged under 21 found 6% felt victimised because of gang-related issues, compared with just 3% of the 5,719 prisoners of all ages who responded.
Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust campaign group, said the report showed “the extent to which imprisonment, the most expensive disposal available to the courts, results in thousands of short-term prisoners and young offenders being warehoused, with little if any pretence at work, training, education or effective resettlement”.
Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said he was “deeply concerned” that the number of serious incidents and security breaches in London jails has increased since the riots.
“The public expect prisoners to be punished and reformed in prison, not recruited into gangs,” he said.
“Prison and probation officers have an important role to play in prisoners’ rehabilitation, but we are seeing thousands of frontline job losses in the Prison and Probation Services.
“This Tory-led Government must now give assurances that their cuts will not put the security of prisons at risk.”
He went on: “The prison population has reached a record high and prison and probation officers are being increasingly overstretched.
“It is vital for security in our prison estates that prison and probation staff get the resources and support they need.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “Gang affiliations are not necessarily reflective of gang membership in the community. Where they exist, gangs are managed within the broad security and control frameworks that apply to all prisoners.
“Within this, there are clear strategies to prevent the supply of drugs and mobile phones into prisons, and a violence reduction strategy.
“We have enhanced our offending behaviour programmes in prisons to address issues of gang violence and knife crime.
“We are also piloting a new one-to-one intervention for those whose violence and offending is linked to their sense of identity and affiliation.”
Justice Minister Crispin Blunt added that the report was a “balanced and fair reflection of the work of the prison service”.
“It is clear that we are still not doing enough,” he said, adding that the Government was “pursuing new ways of getting the best out of all the agencies that can help deliver effective rehabilitation through payment by results”.
He went on: “Nick Hardwick’s greatest concern is the lack of activity by too many prisoners.
“That is why we are working hard to maximise proper work in prisons by prisoners.
“A full day’s work making some sort of economic return that can help victims of crime can deliver a number of important overlapping benefits.
“By the time of his next report I hope he will be able to report satisfactory progress in this area and continue to do so year by year as we bring this policy aspiration to reality.”