Prison Service bosses have instructed staff to grant the convicts, who include Devil worshippers and Satanists, special privileges on Tuesday Hundreds of Pagans serving prison sentences are to be given the day off work for Halloween out of respect for their religious beliefs.
Prison Service bosses have instructed staff to grant the convicts, who include Devil worshippers and Satanists, special privileges on Tuesday. While fellow prisoners sew mail bags and undertake other jail work, the Pagans will be allowed to celebrate their 'holiday'. They can use certain artefacts, including rune stones, flexible twigs and hoodless robes, provided they are kept in their cells or worn during communal worship. Robes with hoods are banned for 'security reasons', however.
The move is revealed in Home Office documents handed to The Mail on Sunday, which disclose that prisons have been instructed to allow inmates to pursue their religions so the Government can avoid being sued by prisoners. The orders, issued by the Prison Service's Director of Personnel, Gareth Hadley, apply to every religion from Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism to Hinduism and Islam and, in the interests of equality, Paganism, too.
There are currently 282 Pagans in jails in England and Wales. Critics attacked the policy, saying it was pandering to a 'mad' politically correct agenda. Brian Caton, general secretary of the Prison Officers' Association, said last night: "People are sent to jail by the courts as a punishment. Taking this punitive element away by pandering to what some might see as political correctness gone mad is all wrong."
The Home Office papers reveal that Pagans can choose a day off work on two dates from eight of their festivals each year. These include the Spring Equinox on March 20, the Midsummer Solstice on June 21 and Hallowe'en - the Samhain, or Summer's End, as it was known in Celtic times - on October 31. Christian prisoners are allowed three days off - on Good Friday, Easter Day and Christmas Day. Muslims are entitled to the most time off - 26 days to pray, including the fast of Ramadan. Buddhists get three days, Hindus ten and Jews seven.
The individualised approach has led some prisoners to complain of discrimination. Many inmates are unhappy that they must eat Halal meat even though Muslims make up less than eight per cent of the 77,000-strong prison population. One Christian, serving a sentence at Ford open prison in West Sussex, has lodged a legal challenge against the Prison Service for allegedly refusing to allow Christian inmates to attend midnight mass at Christmas. Prison sources say the service is 'hell bent' on pandering to the demands of minorities. But Home Office guidelines say the measures are crucial for reducing 'exposure to litigation'. A spokesman said: "The Prison Service is committed to treating all prisoners with decency and humanity, which includes respecting those of all religions."