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Academics criticise racist French prisons

French prisons treat Muslims worse than English prisons according to new research released by the University of Warwick.

Academics at the University visited prisons on both sides of the channel and talked to inmates. While the report raises questions for prison services in both France and the UK, it underlines failings in the French system, comparing it unfavourably with our own.

Professor Daniele Joly of the University of Warwick said: "The supposed neutrality of the prison service in France towards the ethnic and religious backgrounds of prisoners is widely blamed by Muslim inmates as a prime cause of racist and discriminatory treatment.

"In contrast, the fact that Christian chaplaincy has been a central feature of prisons in England and Wales for more than 200 years has created opportunities for religious activities from which our 5,800 Muslim prisoners benefit."

Joly, of the Centre for Research in Ethnic Relations, and by Professor James Beckford, of the Department of Sociology, also of the University of Warwick cite a range of issues for Muslim prisoners including overt racism, toilet facilities in cells shared with non-Muslims, and fears over Halal foods.

Joly added: "The French state strives towards not only the legal equality of all citizens but also their assimilation into a single, indivisible culture. So, religious or ethnic minorities get very little official recognition.

"Muslim prisoners tend to feel that Islam is despised in France, but in England and Wales they were at least aware that official policies show respect for their religion, even if not always implemented to their satisfaction."

The UK's almost two million Muslims appear to be nearly three times over-represented in prisons. There are no official statistics in France about religion, but informal estimates agree that Muslims - about five million in all - are even more heavily over-represented. In both countries, however, the proportion of foreign nationals among Muslim prisoners is high.

For further information please contact:

Professor Daniele Joly
Centre for Research in Ethnic Relations
University of Warwick
Tel: 024 7652 4869

Richard Fern, Press Officer,
Communications Office, University House
University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 8UW
024 7657 4255 email:

REF PR RWF 9th November 2005