- Whitemoor has highest proportion of Muslims in any British jail
- Cambridgeshire institution has double number recorded in 2008
- They form 'biggest power bloc' in Category A jail, watchdogs say
- Report says religious gulf within prison has been underestimated
Legal fight: Extremist Kamel Bourgass (pictured) was held in solitary confinement at Whitemoor
Muslims dominate a high-security jail for the first time, sparking fear among other prisoners and staff, a report reveals.
Half of inmates at Whitemoor are now Muslims. It is believed to be the highest proportion in any British jail and double the number recorded less than a decade ago.
They form the ‘biggest power bloc’ in the Category A prison, taking over from the previous ‘gangs’, according to watchdogs.
‘About half the prisoners on Whitemoor’s main wings are Muslim, profoundly affecting the social nature of the jail and disrupting established hierarchies,’ the Independent Monitoring Board said.
Its report went on: ‘Against this background we note that some prisoners and staff found the Muslim presence overwhelming.
The social and religious fragmentation within Whitemoor potentially posed risks for discipline and hence safety.’
It noted that some ‘faith awareness training’ was being carried out but the religious gulf within the jail had been underestimated.
The report revealed half of the 447 inmates of the remote Cambridgeshire jail were Muslim in May this year – up from 40 per cent a year earlier and 28 per cent in 2008. Nationally the figure is 15 per cent.
Among Whitemoor prisoners in their 20s and 30s, 56 per cent now follow Islam.
A series of worrying reports on the establishment has revealed that inmates come under intense pressure to convert to Islam, which is treated by the most dangerous Muslims as a gang or protection racket rather than a religion.
‘There were some intimidating “heavy players” among the Muslim population who appeared to be orchestrating prison power dynamics rather than propagating or following the faith,’
according to a landmark 2012 academic study.
Inmates told researchers they were bullied into changing religion, and even those who resisted were too scared to cook pork in communal kitchens in case it caused offence.
Some prisoners claimed the jail was a ‘recruiting ground’ for extremism as young inmates were ‘in awe’ of convicted terrorists held there.
Earlier this year extremist Kamel Bourgass, serving life for murdering a policeman as he went on the run from a ricin factory, won a Supreme Court case after claiming he had been held in solitary confinement for too long at Whitemoor.
He was segregated at the jail, and eventually moved out of it, because he was feared to be involved in ‘an escalation in violence’ at the prison’.
However, experts say the radicalisation of criminals is less of a problem at Whitemoor than the recruitment of new members to gangs, who make money by selling dangerous ‘legal high’ drugs that the authorities cannot test for.
Mark Icke, vice-president of the Prison Governors Association, said: ‘We have a prison population which is bigger, serving longer sentences, more prone to violence, and increasingly driven by gang affiliations.
‘Use of legal highs, which we cannot yet test for, has destabilised the system further.’