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Rastafarianism Officially Recognized As a Religion in Prision Featured

Rastafarianism Officially Recognized As a Religion in Prision

Rastafarian inmates are being handed Bob Marley CDs, drums and shakers after their religion was officially recognised by prison chiefs.

New rules mean Rastafarianism is an approved religion alongside Christianity, Islam and other major faiths.

The pack has been created to ensure Rastafarian prisoners can pray together in a ‘fulsome and harmonious way’, a faith advisor said. However, the religion’s followers have been told that one common element of their religious practice is barred: they cannot smoke cannabis in jail.

The change in policy came after an unnamed inmate appealed to Nigel Newcomen, the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman.

He ruled that the Prison Service was in breach of the Equality Act 2010, and said Rastafarianism, whose followers worship Haile Selassie, the former King of Ethiopia, as God and smoke cannabis as a ‘sacrament’,  should be recognised.

Rastafarians are permitted four days ‘holiday’ off work in prison each year to celebrate festivals, and are given access to a ‘Rastafari Heritage Resource Pack’.

It includes a list of ‘allowed items’ provided by the National Rastafari Chaplaincy for weekly ‘Groundation’ (Holy Day) ceremonies. Among them are a CD or DVD of Rastafari drumming, music and chanting, including reggae tracks by Bob Marley, and percussion instruments.

In addition prisoners are given a small Rastafarian flag, a picture of Haile Selassie, a selection of his speeches and a copy of the King James Bible. However,  cannabis remains banned.

A spokesman for The Rastafari Faith Advisors to the Prison Chaplaincy Service said: ‘This pack provides information, texts from His Majesty’s speeches... some of the best-loved reggae tracks, as well as information that sets Rastafari in the  context of black history.

‘Every detail in the pack has been double-checked to ensure that no further blocks or barriers are placed to prevent Rastafarians from meeting and giving Ises [praise] together in a fulsome and harmonious way.’

The National Offender Management Service, which runs prisons in England and Wales, recognises 18 religions. They include Paganism and Zoroastrianism, an ancient Iranian religion.

At the time of the 2011 census, there were 7,906 Rastafarians in England and Wales - up from 5,000 in 2001 - making it the 14th largest recognised religion recorded by the survey.

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