Award for pioneering study into Muslim women in prison

31st Mar 2017
Award for pioneering study into Muslim women in prison

Princess Anne presents Muslim Hands, Community Development and Prison Rehabilitation Coordinator Sofia Buncy The Butler Trust Award (Photo: Butler Trust)

Elham Asaad Buaras

Community Development and Prison Rehabilitation Coordinator at Muslim Hands, Sofia Buncy, has been awarded a national award for a pioneering 15-month study involving Muslim women in the prison system.

Buncy, from Huddersfield, received her The Butler Trust Award on March 9 at St James’ Palace, London, in the presence of Princess Anne.

The major report she co-authored, Muslim Women in Prison: Second Chance | Fresh Horizons, explored the experiences of Muslim women in HMP & YOI New Hall and HMP Askham Grange and is already having a significant impact. Her project has now spread to a number of prisons across the country.

 

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Winners of the Butler Trust Award on March 9 at St James’ Palace, London (Photo: Butler Trust)

As the project expanded, other possibilities, including new services, emerged, including an ‘Inspiration Muslim Women’s Speakers scheme’ at HMP Peterborough with high profile women coming to speak to those in custody.

After receiving the award, Buncy told The Muslim News: “I am humbled by the Butler trust award. It is a real privilege to be acknowledged at this level. But more importantly, the award will hopefully serve to lend credibility to the issue and place the plight of Muslim women prisoners on the radar of the community and providers. If it does that, it will have been greatly worthwhile receiving. The award is less for me and more for the Muslim women prisoners who had the courage to speak out in their hour of adversity.”

Regarding her work, she said: “The project has raised the profile of Muslim women in prison and paved a way for an open and a wider debate within the community.”

“It has helped to reduce the reluctance of Muslim leadership to treat this as a taboo subject,” she added.

As a result of her success, she said, “I find myself being drawn into the unconventional position of tailoring community rehabilitation models for Muslim male prisoners – a challenge that I cherish! Also, I find myself providing encouragement to other UK based Muslim charities and community organisations to focus on Muslims in and post-prison life.”

Co-author and nominator, Ishtiaq Ahmed, said: “The work had many inherent challenges that required sensitive handling.”

“Prisons had to approach the idea with a natural caution and be convinced of the viability and benefits of the outcomes. Community opinions were very much divided on the need for such a project, partly because they could not see its relevance, and partly due to the embarrassment it may unearth for the image of the community.”

“The bigger issue overshadowing this subject is the strong stigma and taboo which being a female offender brings in dishonouring the family and community name.”

Chair of Muslim Hands, Syed Lakhte Hassanain, said: “On behalf of myself and Muslim Hands SMT and Trustees, we congratulate Sofia for her hard work and support her continued success”

Maqsood Ahmed, Director of Community Development at Muslim Hands, said he was “very proud” of their prison work, and “especially of Sofia and the Muslim Women in Prison project. Sofia’s work in women’s prisons has provided an invaluable insight into the needs of these women and we are looking forward to the continuation and development of the programme.”

Speaking about Buncy’s work, Chair of the Awarding Panel at Butler Trust, Sir Michael Harrison, said: “The sheer impact – and the lifeline it offers – was captured well in some simple but beautiful words, by a Muslim woman prisoner, describing what Sofia meant to her: ‘You are my breath.’”

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