Muslim sex offenders may be allowed to opt out of a treatment programme because it is against their religion, it was revealed today.
The Prison Service's Muslim advisor, Ahtsham Ali, has said there is a "legitimate Islamic position" that criminals should not discuss their crimes with others.
It could mean that Muslims convicted of sex attacks will attempt to avoid the Sex Offender Treatment Programme, which involves group discussions of their crimes.
Although Mr Ali has not yet proposed changes to the rules, he told prisoners' newspaper Inside Time: "I will be taking it forward as a matter of some urgency with colleagues, including those with policy responsibility for the Sex Offender Treatment programme, who I know are very willing to consider and discuss these issues."
The possibility of an exemption for Muslims came to light after an unnamed prisoner wrote to the newspaper asking to clarify the position of Muslims on the programme.
"I have always insisted that it was against Islamic teachings to discuss your offence to anyone, let alone act it out within a peer group," the prisoner wrote.
Mr Ali responded that the issue had been raised twice before but there had not yet been a review of the rules relating to the treatment programme.
A Prison Service spokeswoman said: "We are currently seeking to ensure that the policy for the Sex Offender Treatment Programme is sensitive to the diversity of religions within the prison context.
"The programme is suitable for any prisoner with a current or previous conviction for a sexual offence, or another offence which has an identifiable sexual element.
"Membership of a particular religion is not a bar to participation in accredited programmes."
Editor of the Prisons Handbook, Mark Leech, said: "Muslims who don't want to take part in the course may have to spend more time in prison, because their risk of reoffending will not be assessed as part of the treatment programme.
"This would be quite right, because we have to think about the victim. I think it is feasible there may be a judicial review so that Muslim sex offenders get a dispensation from the rules. There are precedents for allowing dispensations on cultural grounds - for example, wearing a crash helmet is the law but if you are a Sikh man you can have a dispensation from that rule."
The Prison Service spokeswoman added: "As well as being suitable for the programme based on an analysis of their risk and need, offenders must be ready and willing to fully engage in the programme because the programme requires analysis of the offence.
"To assess an offender's readiness, and to ensure that the programme is responsive to their particular needs, a range of factors are considered. These include intellectual ability, language, literacy, dyslexia, mental and physical health, disability, drug use and psychopathic traits, as well as religious or cultural issues."
One expert said Muslim offenders who were forced to stay in prison longer because they refused to take part in the treatment could bring legal action against the Prison Service.
Assistant general secretary of probation union Napo, Harry Fletcher, said the situation presented an "intractable problem".
"The logic is that Muslims cannot take part in offender programmes and therefore their offending behaviour cannot be assessed and they are unlikely to be granted parole. They may then seek legal redress through judicial review on the grounds that they are being discriminated against on the grounds of religion," he said.
"If they do not take part, Muslim sex offenders are likely to serve longer sentences, possibly the whole of their term, before they are released."
Source: Daily Mail (English)