Britain’s Chief Inspector of Prisons Anne Owers Wednesday expressed fears over the treatment of Muslim prisoners held at Belmarsh maximum security jail in south-east London.
Owers warned that the prison was at "full stretch" to deal with the number of Muslim inmates facing terrorism charges and that officers did not understand their social and religious needs.
According to London’s Evening Standard newspaper, about 100 of Belmarsh’s 900 inmates are Muslim, including high-profile suspects held in the top security "jail within a jail."
The jail became notoriously known as Britain’s own Guantanamo Bay after it started to be used to hold foreign Muslim prisoners without charge or trial over three years ago until the detentions were ruled to contravene the country’s Human Rights Act in 2005.
It has since been used as the top prison to detain terrorist suspects, including again most of the original foreign suspects, who are now being held pending deportation.
"The prison’s high security and special security units were at full stretch, holding among others those suspected of the failed suicide bomb attempts of July," the chief jail inspector warned.
"It is vital that prisons understand the prisoners they hold, and can assess the relationships between and within different groups of prisoners, in order to be able to manage them safely," she said.
Owers added that inspectors "did not believe this was the case for staff in relation to Muslim prisoners at Belmarsh, in spite of the efforts of a competent and trusted imam."
In a report, she said there was "insufficient staff understanding of (Muslims’) interactions and needs."
"Afro-Caribbean prisoners did not think there was overt staff racism, Muslim prisoners felt their treatment had worsened since the recent terrorist incidents," the report found.
It said that managers believed that some younger Muslim prisoners were intimidating others into what was "essentially a gang-related, rather than religious, affiliation."
"Young Muslim prisoners were concerned that ordinary social and religious behavior on their part was misinterpreted by staff as being problematic," Owers further reported.
She said there were reports of intimidatory behavior within the Muslim population "not coming to the attention of staff because of poor staff-Muslim relationships."
But responding to the findings, the Prison Service Director General Phil Wheatley insisted that there were "excellent working relationships between the multi-faith chaplaincy team, staff and managers."
This, Wheatley said, "enabled them to work together to ensure the diverse faiths and cultural needs of prisoners can be met." He also said that the chief inspector acknowledged some of the positive strides taken at Belmarsh since the last prison inspection.