A recent Daily Express article condensed a damning 103-page report into an issue of Muslim favouritism.
The report detailed an unannounced inspection of HMP Swaleside that found staff shortages created a multitude of problems.
But the Express article focused upon the tension between Muslim and non-Muslim inmates during Friday prayers, as the latter complained of longer lock-up times.
Gerard Batten, Ukip MEP, who infamously commissioned the “proposed charter of Muslim understanding,” told the Express: “All our prisoners should be treated equally. No one should be disadvantaged by their religion or lack of it.”
“Prison authorities are kow-towing to certain faith groups because of their fear of being accused of discrimination. It is all part of the politically correct culture we live in.”
Rather than ‘kow-towing’ to Muslims, the issue reflects staff shortages, as over 200 of the 311 Muslim inmates attend Friday prayers, so it will stretch resources.
As a result, non-Muslim prisoners complained that their cells were unlocked later on a Friday afternoon. It added to a greater discount over the amount of hours inmates spent locked in cells.
The report added that good relations between inmates and staff helped diffuse some of the “worst effects”.
HMP Swaleside is a category B training prison so the importance of non-cell time is vital. Inspectors noted that unemployed inmates (30 per cent) spent just two hours a day outside their cell. Around a third of inmates were inside their cells during the working day. Swaleside was failing its remit as a training prison.
On a more alarming note, inmates were afraid to leave their cells due to the threat of violence. Six months prior to the inspection, the prison recorded 30 assaults against inmates and 11 against staff. Since 2011, the prison recorded two cases of suicide. Inspectors noted that measures to prevent suicide and self-harm were “inadequate”.
A simple reading of the report highlights multiple failings outside of religious tensions. Yet, the Express article pays little attention to other failings.
Whilst they correctly state that Islam make up the largest single religious denomination (28.2 per cent), the article ignores that Church of England (19.6 per cent) and Roman Catholic (16.5 per cent) inmates outweigh the number of Muslims.
The article then states, “The prison has a mosque and a multi-faith room which are used for prayer sessions.” Yet, it oddly omits the large chapel, and potentially misrepresents the available faith facilities.
Inspectors also recommended that, “Adequate washing facilities should be available to all Muslim prisoners attending prayers,” as the multi-faith room presently has none.
Michael Spurr, chief executive of the National Offender Management Service, noted the criticisms and made safety and recruitment a priority, he said:
“We are actively recruiting permanent staff in prisons across the South East and Swaleside will continue to receive support until permanent staff are in place.”
The Howard League for Penal Reform issued a scathing press release in response to the inspection.
Both the BBC and Kent Online avoided the Muslim-only angle by focusing upon the multiple inadequacies that plague HMP Swaleside.