Magazine article Corrections Today

Muslims in US Prisons: People, Policy, Practice

Magazine article Corrections Today

Muslims in US Prisons: People, Policy, Practice

Article excerpt

Muslims in US Prisons: People, Policy, Practice, by Nawal H. Ammar (ed.), Lynne Rienner Publishers, Boulder, Colo., 2015, 255 pp.

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The scholarly literature on religion's--particularly Islam's--impact on incarcerated offenders has been primarily speculative. "Muslims in US Prisons" is an edited volume of scholarly articles regarding the topic of Muslims in U.S. prisons and the cultures, laws and attitudes surrounding it. Instead of using the more appropriate "crime, corrections and punishment" perspectives, policy studies/ law enforcement often use what is considered a "war on terror" approach, primarily after 9/11, to analyze Islam in prison. This book largely challenges the assumption that prisons have become "hubs of Islamic terrorism" or a fertile ground for recruiting terrorists. Whatever negative element there is within the prison community, the contributing authors indicate that it is miniscule compared to the positive influence Islam plays. All the chapters clearly demonstrate the lack of empirical study--qualitative or quantitative--and the need for more research on the topic. In this sense, the book is only a starting point for a much broader discussion.

"Muslims in US Prisons" has three parts, each filled with scholarly articles and research. The first part begins by providing context to the subject matter, giving a historical account of Islam's growth in the U.S. in general as well as in prisons. Although varying sects are represented, such as Sunni, Shiite, Nation of Islam and Moorish Science Temple, particular emphasis is placed on Nation of Islam and its prominent members like Malcom X. Methodological challenges in this section include scrutiny of the researcher, particularly if the researcher is a Muslim (several contributors to this volume identify themselves as Muslim); the difficulty of identifying Muslim offenders (the system does not identify them on the basis of faith); xenophobic fears by staff; suspicion by the Muslim inmates and prison chaplains; and the politicalized nature of the topic.

The second part of the book explores the "legal, theological and subcultural components" of the Muslim population in prisons, expanding on religious rights and protection against discrimination under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) of 2000. However, amidst concern about Islamic radicalization, considerable deference is given to prison administrators, and according to the contributors, discrimination is rampant on Muslim offenders. Be that as it may, administrators justify restrictions as a means of ensuring order in prison, and Muslims often bring a large number of religious claims under RLUIPA, such as dietary restriction, prohibition on facial hair, etc. …

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