Belief in Prison

I’ve just heard on the radio that a Vegan is seeking redress for dismissal from his job based on the notion that Veganism is a belief. That reminded me of two prison issues.

Firstly, for a Vegan to avoid milk products in prison he must buy substitutes on the canteen. If he has no money he has no substitutes, unless he is registered as a Vegan with the kitchens at a prison where they provide Vegan packs to ensure that essential nutrition is available. As examples, no vegan packs are available at Wandsworth, the largest prison in the country by population as I understand it, and very little is provided at High Down, another B Cat prison in the South East. Now, if you are Muslim or Jewish the prison service will provide you with special food. Vegan prisoners are often referred to Healthcare by wing staff in order to be registered for Vegan packs as if being a Vegan is some sort of illness. The attitude of prison doctors, in my experience, is to say, quite rightly, that this is not a health issue. Let me underline that being right does not mean that all or any prison doctors are sympathetic – some are downright disrespectful as if it must be impossible for a ‘criminal’ to have any non-religious ethical opinions. So, as in many other situations, the Vegan prisoner must rely on the goodwill of a member of the wing staff to get registered as a Vegan. Of the three obvious reasons for being a Vegan; health, animal welfare and the planet, the last two objectively enter into the belief category. It would be so much easier for everyone if, at induction time, when asked about religion, prisoners could state that they were Vegans and be registered as such.

Secondly,  Humanism is not recognised as a belief in prison. Some Humanists, of course, will say that Humanism is not a belief, but that is not relevant in this discussion. The fact is that if you are registered as C of E, Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, Quaker, even Pagan you will be allowed out of your cell at the weekend to formally practice your religion. If you are a Humanist, you are just locked up as are those who say ‘no religion’ – which is, in fact, what Humanists must say. This is one reason why so many prisoners say they are religious – it gets them out of their cells and provides them with some goodies. An example would be the ludicrous number of self-declared Mormons that do so to get hot chocolate rather than prison tea! It would be so much fairer if, at induction time, when asked about religion, prisoners could state that they were Humanists and be registered as such.

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