Posted on July 26, 2019

Muslims Over-Represented in State Prisons, Report Finds

Leila Fadel, NPR, July 25, 2019

are only about 1% of the U.S. population, a new report from the civil rights organization Muslim Advocates finds. The report, released Thursday, is the most comprehensive count of Muslims in state prisons so far.

The report also sheds light on the obstacles some incarcerated Muslims face in prison while practicing their faith.


Muslim Advocates requested religious preference data from every state, and based its report on the records it received from 34 states and Washington D.C. Previous data on the religious preference of federal prisoners show that Muslims make up about 12% of that population, but that’s just a small slice of a much bigger picture.


“Incarcerated Muslims are asking for very basic things: religiously compliant food, books, prayer mats. But they’re not receiving them in many states,” Saei said. “This idea of religious liberty is baked into the U.S. Constitution and federal law specifically protects the religious liberty of prisoners. But our report shows that many state prisons are arbitrarily and illegally preventing incarcerated Muslims from practicing their faith.”


Prisoners’ religious practice is legally protected by the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, passed by Congress in 2000. That law states the government can’t impede a prisoner’s free exercise of religion without a compelling reason.

Some decisions made by the prisons that are obstacles to Muslims practicing their faith come out of ignorance, concerns about costs, like meal plans, or real security concerns like an emergency in the middle of Friday prayer, Aquil said.

But corrections officers live in the real world, he said, and the anti-immigrant, racist and anti-Muslim rhetoric spouted by the current administration has an impact.


Also, Aquil said it’s important to note that over-representation of Muslims in prison isn’t indicative of a lot of Muslims being arrested and convicted.

“About 90 percent of incarcerated Muslims in the United States become Muslims during their incarceration,” he said. “Most of the people that are in prison tend to be repeat offenders and so at some point in time they seem to become aware that they have run the gambit and maybe it’s time for a change.”