Muslims are represented in federal prisons at a rate roughly fifteen times their proportion in the general population: 9.3 percent of inmates in federal prison self-identify as Muslims compared with 0.6 percent of adults aged 18 and over nationally.
The risk of prisons imposing arbitrary limitations on Muslim prisoners’ religious practice is grave. The risk is observable in the frequency of administrative complaints from Muslim prisoners. From 1997 to 2008, Muslim federal prisoners filed the greatest number of requests for administrative remedies regarding religious accommodation of any group-42%. Furthermore, from 2001 to 2006, Muslims were the most common plaintiffs in religious freedom lawsuits in federal court, bringing 29% of cases, often without the assistance of an attorney. Muslims have historically been at the forefront of prison reform and litigation to improve prison conditions.
In the 1960’s, a number of Black Muslims brought lawsuits that resulted in the extension of federal authority over state prisons. Their willingness to stand up for their rights contributed to making prison reform a subject linked to the burgeoning civil rights movement and a recognized area for civil rights litigation today.
ICNA CSJ has launched a specific project to assist Muslim prisoners. For more info, please visit: http://icnacsj.org/mpsp/