A LEADING criminal justice worker has put Bradford on the map with her pioneering project to eliminate the "blind spot" of Muslim women prisoners in the system.

Sofia Buncy, national coordinator at the Khidmat Centre and lead on the Muslim Women in Prison Project (MWIP), started the project eight years ago at a time when very little was known about the issues and challenges specific to Muslim women both in custody and after release.

The highly sensitive research carefully looks at the strong stigma and taboo which being a female offender can sometimes bring in "dishonoring the family and community name".

Now Sofia has been awarded the title of 'Criminal Justice Champion' by the Howard League for Penal Reform

The MWIP, which started out as difficult, emotional talks with female prison leavers in Bradford, is now set to influence more prisons across the UK as it is rolled out for other BAME communities.

Speaking to the Telegraph & Argus, Sofia said: "Hitherto to the project there wasn’t much known about the plight of Muslim caught up in the criminal justice system (CJS).

"This was true for those working in the CJS and the community. The issue was simply not on the radar of the providers.

"Hence, very little was known about the issues and challenges specific to Muslim women in prisons and their lives post prisons and this was also the main factor that propelled us to work in the research space.

"The Muslim Women in Prison Project has very much been instrumental in creating this awareness and enabling those in the system and in the community to have an open and sensible conversations about it. This in itself is a major achievement which needs to be celebrated.

"The fact that the project is part of the Khidmat Centres, an established and credible community setup with integerity for dealing with difficult issues greatly helped.

"Also the fact that Khidmat Centres’ is a delivery arm of Council for Mosques also helped. It gave the project legitimacy. People couldn’t dismiss it as a fringe issue.

"This award, like others before, it has given this issue much needed airing and visibility. I am pleased for the women that have contributed so much to the project’s success."

Yousaf Sidat, the chairperson of Khidmat Centres Board, said: “We are very proud of what Sofia has achieved in this very sensitive and difficult area of work. We are very pleased to be housing the project and contributing to make a positive difference to the lives of the Project beneficiaries and change in the system . Both go hand in hand“

MWIP's work was picked up by David Lammy MP, Labour's Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, in his report into disproportional sentencing and outcomes for BAME people in the CJS.

The project was also invited to make a submission to Lord Farmer’s report on prisoners and family ties as well as a number of university research projects.

Gerry Marshall, trustee of the Howard League for Penal Reform and chair of the Community Awards judging panel, praised Sofia Buncy for her work with Muslim women in prison.

He said: "The panel particularly admired how Sofia had significantly raised awareness of the stigma and cultural challenges of this group, thus educating and impacting on the sector.

"She has made a difference to the cohort of Muslim women in the criminal justice system.

"There is no doubt that it is down to Sofia’s dedication and relentless championing of the issue of Muslim women prisoners that it is no longer the blind spot within the criminal justice system that it used to be."