In France, Prisons Filled With Muslims

Molly Moore, Washington Post, April 29, 2008

{snip}

This prison [Lille-Sequedin Detention Center in far northern France] is majority Muslim—as is virtually every house of incarceration in France. About 60 to 70 percent of all inmates in the country’s prison system are Muslim, according to Muslim leaders, sociologists and researchers, though Muslims make up only about 12 percent of the country’s population.

On a continent where immigrants and the children of immigrants are disproportionately represented in almost every prison system, the French figures are the most marked, according to researchers, criminologists and Muslim leaders.

{snip}

In Britain, 11 percent of prisoners are Muslim in contrast to about 3 percent of all inhabitants, according to the Justice Ministry. Research by the Open Society Institute, an advocacy organization, shows that in the Netherlands 20 percent of adult prisoners and 26 percent of all juvenile offenders are Muslim; the country is about 5.5 percent Muslim. In Belgium, Muslims from Morocco and Turkey make up at least 16 percent of the prison population, compared with 2 percent of the general populace, the research found.

{snip}

French prison officials blame the high numbers on the poverty of people who have moved here from North African and other Islamic countries in recent decades. “Many immigrants arrive in France in difficult financial situations, which make delinquency more frequent,” said Jeanne Sautière, director of integration and religious groups for the French prison system. “The most important thing is to say there is no correlation between Islam and delinquency.”

But Muslim leaders, sociologists and human rights activists argue that more than in most other European countries, government social policies in France have served to isolate Muslims in impoverished suburbs that have high unemployment, inferior schools and substandard housing. This has helped create a generation of French-born children with little hope of social advancement and even less respect for French authority.

“The question of discrimination and justice is one of the key political questions of our society, and still, it is not given much importance,” said Sebastian Roche, who has studied judicial discrimination as research director for the French National Center for Scientific Research. “We can’t blame a state if its companies discriminate; however, we can blame the state if its justice system and its police discriminate.”

{snip}

In recent years, the French government’s primary concern with its Muslim inmate population has been political. French national security officials warned prison authorities in 2005 that they should work to prevent radical Muslims from inciting fellow prisoners. A year later, the French Senate approved a bill giving the country’s national intelligence agency broad authority to monitor Muslim inmates as part of counterterrorism efforts.

Prison authorities began allowing carefully vetted moderate imams into prisons in hopes of “balancing the radical elements,” said Aurélie Leclerq, 33, director of the Lille-Sequedin Detention Center.

{snip}

Today, working in France’s newest prison—the sprawling, three-year-old Lille-Sequedin center—the El Alaoui Talibis say they are more accepted than some Muslim colleagues at other prisons. Prison officials rejected requests by The Washington Post to visit some of the system’s older, more troubled prisons.

{snip}

Many of the Muslim inmates in this prison just west of Lille are the children and grandchildren of immigrants who were brought to the northern region decades ago to work in its coal mines.

{snip}

The refusal of prison officials to provide halal food, particularly meat products, is one of the biggest complaints of Muslim inmates across France and has occasionally led to cellblock protests.

For many years, prisons have allowed Muslim prisoners to forgo pork products—and statistics tracking prisoners who refuse pork is an accurate barometer of the Muslim population in a prison, according to researchers. But cutting out pork is a long way from the full halal regimen. Only recently, did the prisons stop using pork grease to cook vegetables and other dishes.

{snip}

Prison officials say it is too expensive to provide halal meals. “We’d like to buy fresh meat, but we can’t,” said Leclerq, whose prison office is decorated with plush bears.

Muslim inmates said they sense other religious snubs. Christians are allowed packages containing gifts and special treats from their families at Christmas, but Muslims do not receive the same privilege for the Ramadan holy days. “We’re careful not to call them Christmas packages because Muslims would ask for Ramadan packages,” Leclerq said. “We call them end-of-the-year packages. We can’t use a religious term or some people get tense.”

Hassan El Alaoui Talibi said the French prison system has made progress since he began his ministry a decade ago. Last year the government set guidelines for all prisons to follow on religious practices, rather than allowing directors to arbitrarily set their own rules.

Prison imams met with Justice Minister Rachida Dati last month with a list of continuing requests, including more imams and training for prison guards to help them better understand religious differences.

{snip}

Topics:

Share This

We welcome comments that add information or perspective, and we encourage polite debate. If you log in with a social media account, your comment should appear immediately. If you prefer to remain anonymous, you may comment as a guest, using a name and an e-mail address of convenience. Your comment will be moderated.

Comments are closed.