Ben Farmer, London Telegraph, April 9, 2008
Muslim sex offenders may be allowed to opt out of a prison treatment programme because it is against their religion, it has emerged.
Muslim sex offenders who do not take part in the course may spend more time in prison, experts say
The Prison Service’s Muslim advisor has said there is a “legitimate Islamic position” that criminals should not discuss their crimes with others.
Under the Sex Offender Treatment Programme (SOTP), which treats more than 600 prisoners including rapists and sexual killers each year, offenders must discuss their crime, sometimes in groups.
Ahtsham Ali said he would now urgently raise the issue with prison policy makers, raising the prospect of an exemption or special rules for Muslim prisoners.
However, union leaders warned that as treatment is used to assess whether prisoners are suitable for early release, Muslims who have to serve longer terms because they did not take part could sue the Prison Service.
The prospect of a dispensation for Muslim prisoners emerged after an unnamed prisoner wrote to a prison magazine asking for clarification of the position of Muslims on the programme.
He wrote: “I have always insisted that it was against Islamic teachings to discuss your offence to anyone, let alone act it out within a peer group.”
Mr Ali said the issue had been raised before and told Inside Times: “I will be taking it forward as a matter of some urgency with colleagues, including those with policy responsibility for the SOTP programme.”
The Prison Service last night said it was seeking to ensure the programme was “sensitive to the diversity of religions within the prison context”.
Mark Leech, the editor of the Prisons Handbook, said: “Muslims who don’t want to take part in the course may have to spend more time in prison, because their risk of re-offending will not be assessed as part of the treatment programme.
“This would be quite right, because we have to think about the victim.
“I think it is feasible there may be a judicial review so that Muslim sex offenders get a dispensation from the rules.”
Harry Fletcher, the assistant general secretary of probation union Napo, described the situation as an “intractable problem”.
He said: “The logic is that Muslims cannot take part in offender programmes and therefore their offending behaviour cannot be assessed and they are unlikely to be granted parole.
“They may then seek legal redress through judicial review on the grounds that they are being discriminated against on the grounds of religion.”
A spokeswoman for the Prison Service said the programme was suitable for all sex offenders.
She said: “Membership of a particular religion is not a bar to participation in accredited programmes.”