MSNBC has an interesting article about Muslims in European prisons. I bring here excerpts.
Milan, Italy - "In prison you only think about waking up, cleaning your cell, and praying," said a Moroccan inmate serving time in a prison on the outskirts of this city.
During a recent visit to the Bollate prison, 25-year-old Hakimi Abd Elfattah said he was a non-observant Muslim before being incarcerated, but "there's nothing to do in here, so I learn a little of the Quran."
Around 30 percent of Bollate's nearly 900 inmates are Muslim, and many of them pray together in various Arabic dialects and other languages four times a day in small, carpeted cells located on each floor and wing of the prison. They pray alone in their cells at night and gather together for large Friday afternoon services.
While religion can assist prisoners in bettering their lives, there is a growing fear that radical Islamists are using jails to find recruits, with some analysts saying that al-Qaida is specifically targeting inmates for indoctrination.
Alarmed by the possibility, the European Union has made the prevention of recruitment and radicalization in prisons a counter-terrorism priority for the first time.
For her part, Bollate prison director Lucia Castellano said she has never suspected any inmates of recruiting for or planning terrorist attacks in her prison. But, she acknowledged that with so many languages spoken within the prison's walls, it would be impossible for guards to know what was being discussed.
'Criminality and Islamism'
"The connection between criminality and Islamism is very tight in Europe," said Michael Radu, a terrorism analyst at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.
"Every (terrorist) attack has converts, and most of them have criminal records and were converted within prisons," he said, noting the cases of British "Shoe Bomber" Richard Reid and José Emilio Suárez Trashorras, the Spaniard who supplied the explosives used in the 2004 Madrid bombings — both of whom converted while incarcerated.
Like the young Moroccan held in the Bollate prison, analysts noted that the majority of Europe's prisoners were not actively engaged in any religion before being locked up, but their confinement often spurs a religious awakening or reawakening.
In Florence, Italy, an Arabic cultural mediator said that by introducing Islam into the lives of inmates held at Tuscany's Soliciano prison, he saw a huge change in their personalities.
None of the prisoners from Islamic countries prayed when he began visiting them several years ago, but now dozens pray together and those who were using drugs, starving or mutilating themselves have all stopped, according to Mourad Abderrezak.
Overrepresentation in jails
The United States has not been immune to Islamic radicalization in its jails, but the situation this side of the Atlantic is underscored by the overrepresentation of Muslims in prison.
Muslims account for an estimated 50 percent of France's prison population, with some jails on the outskirts of Paris hitting 80 percent, while Muslims only account for six to ten percent of the total population. (No concrete statistics exist because it is illegal to ask a person to declare their faith in France.)
"Muslims tend not to be in prison in the U.S. because they're middle class, educated, and don't have the pathologies of the European Muslims," terrorism analyst Radu said.
By contrast, Muslims in France often live in impoverished ghettos where criminal activity is common, and the country's terrorism-related arrests date to the early 1990's when members of Algeria's Islamic Salvation Front began arriving as a civil war took hold of the north African country.
In England and Wales, Muslims represent 8 percent of the inmate population, but they only account for 2 to 4 percent of the whole U.K. population (which includes Scotland and Northern Ireland).
Fourteen percent of Italy's prison population is Muslim, 98 percent of whom are foreign nationals, while Muslims only account for one percent of the total population.
In the cases of countries such as Italy and Spain, many Muslims are illegal economic migrants who arrive clandestinely with great hopes, but do not have the skills or legal right to work to support themselves. "The only avenue they can follow is crime; there's nothing they can do that's legal" said Castellano, the Italian prison director.
In England and Wales, "prison governors are aware of the risks of radicalization," the U.K. Home Office wrote in a prepared statement.
"There is no evidence that this is widespread although we suspect some prisoners have covertly attempted to radicalize prisoners, both during their prison sentence and after release," the statement said, noting that 23 full time imams, 12 part-time imams, and 120 sessional imams who visit once a week, and who have all had vigorous security checks, "are prohibited from preaching or facilitating extremist messages and activities."
The program keeps an eye out for possible extremist activity, but it also sparks "curiosity and to some degree pressure from fellow inmates to take part in chaplaincy activities," said sociology professor Beckford.
While generally viewed as positive measures, special provisions such as Islamic literature, prayer halls, halal food, evening Ramadan meals, and headscarves for women, can also entice Muslims to seek advantages and separate themselves from other inmates, forming a sort of clan mentality, according to Beckford.
However, in France, which does not recognize or regulate religious activity in prisons, provisions are only offered on an ad hoc basis, dependent on the personal preferences of prison directors and wardens. Qurans are available in some prisons, but incarcerated Muslim woman are often denied the right to wear headscarves and halal food is not offered."
"In the French case, fundamentalism can be more pronounced than in Britain because it is a way for many Muslims to draw a divide between them and a society which does not tolerate Muslim habits and customs through its "laïcité" system," Farhad Khosrokhavar, another co-author of "Muslims in Prison" wrote in an email interview.
Source: MSNBC (English)