Extremism In UK Prisons

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Extremism In UK Prisons

UK Home Secretary, Liz Truss, has this week announced proposals to tackle extremism in prisons. This follows a report on the rising number of radical extremists within the prison system. With the number of radicalised inmates rising, the new measures are designed to limit the opportunity to radicalise other inmates. This move includes isolating inmates and new training initiatives for prison staff. The moves come shortly before the sentencing of radical Muslim cleric, Anjem Choudhary.

Radicalisation of Inmates

Radicalisation of inmates is not a new concern for the UK. During the troubles in Northern Ireland, the issue of inmates being influenced and radicalised was noted and serious. At that time the political and paramilitary prisoners within the prison system were able to organise themselves very effectively. This allowed them to conduct operations from inside prisons and to recruit other, already disillusioned, inmates to their cause.

Truss states that she has learnt from these experiences and that these have helped to form the response to reports on modern day radicalisation in the prison system. In an interview on BBC Radio, Truss said that much of the work would be around training, routines and protocols but added:

But there are a small number of individuals, very subversive individuals, who do need to be held in separate units, we are establishing specialist units in the prison estate to hold those individuals.

Isolating the most radical may well prevent them from meeting other inmates but the suggestion is not without criticism. Critics note that in essence this will create small units in which the most extreme inmates within our prison network are living in close proximity to one another. This allows them to develop ideas, plan and become an even bigger menace to society. Additionally, it may prove to make the detainees placed within these units as heroes, or foster unnecessary sympathy for them.

That something needs to be done is beyond doubt. The number of people convicted of extremism is relatively low, but has risen. A report published on 22nd August 2016 by former Head of the Prison Service, Ian Acheson, states:

charismatic Islamist extremist prisoners [are] acting as self-styled ‘emirs’ and exerting a controlling and radicalising influence of the wider Muslim prison population

It goes on to say that the radicalisation is made easy because of the fears that service staff have being accused of racism. In particular, literature has been getting into prisons and dress codes have been pushed to the limit. Inmates have been observed using prayer services as a means to meet and discuss radical ideas. The report is quite clear that these things are happening.

Muslim Radicalisation in perspective.

The last published figures for the UK Prison population showed that there were 12633 Muslims held in custody.

There were 147 people serving sentences for holding extremist views. 137 of these inmates claim to be Muslim.

It may seem an overreaction to place such emphasis on radicalisation given that only 1.08% of the Muslim prison population has a conviction for extremism. The fear is that as the population rises – the number of imprisoned Muslims has doubled in the last decade – and global events continue to radicalise increasing numbers in the civilian world, that those inside the prison system will be able to radicalise people who are potentially already quite dangerous.

In December 2015 the then Justice Minister, Michael Gove and the Prison Officers Association reported that radical extremists were attempting to deliberately get imprisoned in order to facilitate radicalisation plans. There was also evidence of extremists attempting to find employment in the prison estate.

Contrasted to this are reports from July 2016 that showed that Muslim inmates are being discriminated against because of an overemphasis on anti-radicalisation. Muslim inmates being subjected to additional checks, for example, for no reason other than the fact that they are Muslim. Source – The Guardian.

Further Reading

The Guardian

Reuters UK

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