The number of Muslim convicts in British prisons has surpassed the 11,000 mark for the first time, according to data included in a new report produced by the British Parliament.
The statistics -- from a July 29 House of Commons research report entitled, "Prison Population Statistics" -- show that the number of Muslim inmates in England and Wales jumped to 11,248 in 2012, up from 3,681 in 1997. Stated another way, over the past 15 years, the number of Muslims in British prisons has jumped by more than 200%.
The rate of increase of Muslim inmates in British prisons is eight times faster than that of the overall prison population, and the numbers show a clear overrepresentation of Muslim convicts: Muslims, who make up roughly 5% of the British population as a whole, now make up 13% of the British prison population (compared to just 6% in 1997).
The growth in the number of Muslim inmates is fueling fears that British prisons are becoming hotbeds for Islamic radicalization.
Although most of the Muslims in British prisons are immigrants from Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, an increasing number of Muslim inmates are converts to Islam.
According to a research report recently commissioned by the British Ministry of Justice, many non-Muslim inmates in British prisons are being bullied into conversion or are embracing Islam in exchange for promises of protection from physical assault.
The study examines the Islamic "gang culture" inside the Whitemoor Prison in Cambridgeshire, which houses around 500 of the most dangerous prisoners in Britain. Researchers from the Cambridge Institute of Criminology who wrote the report found that more than one third (39%) of the prisoners at Whitemoor are Muslims.
Prisoners told the researchers that they had felt overwhelming pressure to convert. In some instances, they said, Muslim inmates had left Islamic literature in their cells and ordered them to "read this." In other instances, inmates were promised that if they converted to Islam, they would be safe from physical assault.
The report states that if loners, including sex offenders, converted to Islam, fellow Muslims would defend them; they could thereby gain safety from a large and dominant group. Others used their newly acquired faith as a tool for status in establishing influence.
Non-Muslims and prison officers inside Whitemoor described Islam as an "organized gang" and a "protection racket," which "glorified terrorist behavior and exploited the fear related to it."
Prison guards said there were "proper Al-Qaeda" members in the prison who were regarded with "awe" by younger inmates. Some prisoners described Whitemoor as a "recruiting drive for the Taliban" and fertile ground for hatred and a new generation of extremists.
Guards also said they had a policy of "appeasement" towards the powerful and growing Islamic prison population, particularly convicted terrorists who were feared to be recruiting future extremists.
The report states: "The threat of assaults motivated by religious fanaticism or extremist ideology added weight to the atmosphere at Whitemoor," and continues: "The new population mix, including high numbers of Muslim prisoners, was disrupting established hierarchies in the prison. Social relations among prisoners had become complex and less visible. Too much power flowed among some groups of prisoners, with some real risks of serious violence. There were high levels of fear in the prison. In particular, there were tensions and fears relating to 'extremism' and 'radicalization.'"
The report concludes: "More prominent, in practice, were pressures (and temptations) felt by some prisoners to convert to Islam. Conditions in the prison made participation in Islamic practices the most 'available' option for those looking for belonging, meaning, 'brotherhood,' trust and friendship."
Meanwhile, British media recently reported that Dale Cregan, a notorious quadruple murderer who is serving a life sentence at the Manchester Prison, is being targeted by extremist Muslims who want to convert him to Islam.
Cregan, who is of Irish Catholic background, is said to be afraid of rival gang members who have offered a bounty to anyone who attacks him in prison. Muslims have offered to protect Cregan if he converts to Islam. According to prison officials, Cregan is so well known that if he converts to Islam, it would be seen as a way to further increase the influence of Muslim gangs inside the prison.
The growing problem of Muslim gangs taking over British prisons was the topic of a recent BBC investigation. The program includes an interview with a former inmate named Jay, who says, "Muslims run it. Muslims run the prisons and there's nothing the screws [British slang for a prison guard] can do about it. For a Muslim you'd say it's good but for a non-Muslim, it's very, very bad."
Jay, who has been in and out of prison for most of his life, openly admits helping to convert non-Muslim inmates to Islam, and has meted out violence against anyone who dares to "disrespect" his religion.
According to Jay, "It hurts as a Muslim to have someone disrespect my religion. If we deal with him one time, with violence, and show him what time it is, he will never disrespect our religion again."
Jay first went to prison when he was 15 and says there were hardly any Muslims inmates back then. "At the beginning not many knew about Islam. There weren't many converts. The mosque was empty, but nowadays jails are run mostly by the Muslims," he says.
"There are certain brothers that convert purely on the basis that they read Islam and they want to believe in something that does good for them. Then other people because they want to be looked after. I've been in jail five times," he says, "and on my last occasion, I've seen jails being run by Muslim inmates. Muslim prayers on a Friday are very, very busy. In some prisons there's no space. In one jail I was in, they do the prayers in two sessions because there's no space."
The BBC investigation also includes an interview with the national chairman of the Prison Officers Association, Colin Moses, who says: "People are being radicalized, forcibly radicalized by these gangs. We see it as a real danger, now and for the future of prisons."
Moses says that those who are in gangs or have converted to Islam often do it to carry out criminal activities. "As the Muslim population grows, the gangs are becoming more and more prevalent by the week and they fight to take control of the drug trade and the dealing of mobile phones in prison. This will make our prisons even more violent," he says.
Speaking anonymously, a former prison officer who worked at the Long Lartin Prison in Worcestershire talks about cases where non-Muslim prisoners were seriously assaulted and intimidated for refusing to abide by unofficial rules imposed by Muslim gangs, for example about eating pork or listening to Western music.
Writing in the July 2013 issue of the prisoner's magazine, Inside Time, a "long serving prisoner" at Long Lartin has this to say: "We are able to cook our own food here but if we attempt to cook pork in the communal kitchen it is deemed dangerous, even a threat to your life. The kitchen is usually occupied by 90% Muslims and we have been told if we cook pork we will be stabbed. There have been incidents here where people have been targeted and pressured and bullied into converting to Islam."
He adds: "I am writing to inform people of these radical extremists views in this prison where I see no official steps being taken to combat them. Young Muslim men are being radicalized in here and one day they may commit acts of terrorism in this country. There seems to be nothing being done here to stop it and people are scared to speak out. I hope we get some feedback from this; it needs to be sorted out."
Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook.