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Understanding Conversion to Islam in Prison

A ground-breaking research programme, Understanding Conversion to Islam in Prison (UCIP), investigating the mobilisation and effects of Islamic religious change in European prisons, has joined the Institute for Crime and Justice Policy Research at Birkbeck.

Understanding Conversion to Islam in Prison (UCIP), now hosted by the Institute for Crime and Justice Policy Research (ICPR) at Birkbeck, is an interdisciplinary research programme conducting an original empirical investigation into the practice of Islam in European prisons with a particular focus on how significant religious change around Islam helps or hinders prisoner rehabilitation.

UCIP is using robust mixed-methods, criminological-theological research to investigate:

  • who converts to Islam, in socio-demographic and religious terms;
  • why many prisoners choose to follow Islam in European prisons;
  • what types of Islam(-ism) are followed in prison;
  • what the benefits and risks are of choosing to follow Islam in prison;
  • how the process of conversion to Islam is managed by prison authorities and the Prison Chaplaincy.

So far, UCIP has conducted fieldwork in five English prisons, four Swiss prisons and one French prison and has generated a mixed methods data-set from 280 prisoner participants, 19 prison chaplains, 41 prison officers and 14 prison governors. This makes UCIP the broadest and most detailed study to date into the practice of Islam in European prisons.

Driven by this data, UCIP will then design, pilot and test practical interventions to improve prison outcomes for prisoners who choose to follow Islam called PRIMO (Prison-based Religious Interventions for Muslim Offenders), which is also to be hosted by the ICPR from May 2021, running for five years.

Dr Matthew Wilkinson, Reader in Religion & Criminal Justice at Birkbeck, said: “UCIP is honoured to join ICPR. We aim to bring about an enduring improvement in the way that Muslims are understood in European prisons to the benefit of prisoners’ and returning Muslim citizens’ lives and British and continental European society more widely.”

Professor Jessica Jacobson, Director of ICPR, added: “ICPR is delighted to be hosting UCIP and the follow-up PRIMO project. This is a highly innovative and important programme of work, which will broaden the scope and enhance the impact of ICPR's existing international research on prisons and the use of imprisonment.”

UCIP at Birkbeck is in academic partnership with The McDonald Centre for Theology, Ethics & Public Life at the University of Oxford, the University of Salford and the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, and the research is funded by the Dawes Trust.

Further Information

  • For more information, please contact: Lucy Wilkinson, Project Director l.wilkinson@bbk.ac.uk / 07930 413 841

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