Fears of unrest at Whitemoor Prison – where 194 of the 454 inmates are Muslims- are outlined in a stark report published today.

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Nick Hardwick, chief inspector of prisons, believes many Muslim prisoners feel they are victimised but non-Muslim prisoners complain that Muslim prisoners and staff have too much influence.

Mr Hardwick accepts the prison is doing “some good work” to manage a diverse population and address the concerns of Muslim, black and minority ethnic prisoners.

“However, this remained a major challenge that needed a consistent high level of attention,” he said.

At the time of his unannounced inspection, Mr Hardwick felt the prison held a “disproportionately large Muslim population” with some convicted of terrorism offences.

Sixty-nine prisoners were held on the Fens unit, formerly the ‘Dangerous and Severe Personality Disorder unit’, which provided intensive therapy to men with personality disorders. A further six men were held on the Close Supervision Centre, part of a network of facilities centrally managed by and inspected separately.

“Overall Whitemoor was a safe, respectful and purposeful prison which provided some constructive opportunities for prisoners serving long sentences to address their offending behaviour,” he said.

“However, we had real concerns about the management and application of use of force and segregation which impacted negatively on some of the most vulnerable prisoners in the population, and which were a significant exception to this generally positive picture.”

The report says that “across all groups of the prison’s population there were some very dangerous men, some of whom tried to influence and pressurise other prisoners.

“In some cases this was gang-related. This group included some Muslim prisoners convicted of terrorist offences who were an adverse influence on others.”

But the report also says it was important to recognise religious faith played in the prison and which could be, for all prisoners, an important factor in positive behaviour changes.

It wasn’t simply Muslim prisoners with faith issues – the report notes Roman Catholic prisoners complained that Whitemoor’s daily timetable prevented them from going to mass.

On a positive note inspectors found that:

• Prisoners at risk of self-harm were generally well supported;

• Security arrangements were appropriately stringent and illicit use of substances was well controlled;

• Support for those with substance misuse problems was very good;

• Living conditions were generally good;

• In general relationships between staff and prisoners had continued to improve, although a small number of staff remained more distant;

• Time out of cell was reasonable and vocational training opportunities were good

• All prisoners had good support from offender supervisors, public protection issues were very good and a range of offending behaviour courses appropriate to the population was offered.

However inspectors say they were concerned to find that:

• While use of force was low, oversight arrangements were poor and in a small number of cases, there was little use of de-escalation and evidence of excessive force being used;

• The segregation regime for a number of long-stay residents remained particularly poor.

Michael Spurr, chief executive of the National Offender Management Service, said: “Whitemoor manages very challenging and long-term prisoners so it is pleasing that the chief inspector has recognised the safe and purposeful environment it provides.

“The governor and his staff deserve credit for their hard work in achieving this.

“They will now use the recommendations in the report to address the areas of improvement identified.”

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