Religious Pluralism in Swiss Prisons

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A recent study by the Swiss National Sciences Foundation has found that religious pluralism in Swiss prisons does not lead to the same kind of conflicts that occur in French and British prisons. Catholic and Protestant prison chaplains have long been integrated into the Swiss institutional framework; however, given that the number of Muslim prisoners has risen significantly over the last years, prisons have been facing increasingly diversified challenges to respond to Muslim concerns.
Certain practices have led to more difficulties than others: halal meat (sometimes only provided if the prisoners can pay for it themselves); fasting during the month of Ramadan; appropriate spaces for daily prayers; and the organization of regular religious services. In the latter case, in a number of prisons imams do come to deliver sermons, however they are not integrated into the prison system. For example, in one prison in the canton of Vaud, one third of the prisoners are Muslims and two imams come to deliver sermons on Fridays. However, neither of them is officially recognized and their work is entirely voluntary.
Furthermore, the study found that although religious diversity might not lead to interfaith conflicts, Muslims remain stigmatized. This was found to be the case especially among the prison personnel, who would frequently bring up stereotypes concerning Islam and Muslims without having been explicitly asked a question on the subject.
The study concludes by recommending greater religious understanding on the part of the personnel; an adaptation of the legal framework to better reflect the current demographic reality; and finally conceptualizing the role of prison chaplains so as to encourage more interreligious capacities. The latter would benefit greatly from encouraging special prison chaplain courses of study at universities, such as the Master’s program that exists at the University of Bern.
Swiss National Science Foundation – National Research Program 58:
Communiqué
Report on the Sociological Challenges of Religious Plurality in Swiss Prisons (French)

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