LONDON: An ex-prison governor Ian Acheson, who reviewed Islamist extremism in the UK’s jails has said the record number of terrorists being locked up could accelerate radicalisation already taking place. “There has been a problem for years and the organisation [HM Prison and Probation Service] has been asleep,” he told The Independent. “Islamist groups offer a very seductive message and if the prison doesn’t have an alternative, because it can’t offer a full regime and rehabilitation programmes, it’s a clown show.
A crisis driven by overcrowding, understaffing, disorder, violence and drugs came to a head this month as officers walked out in protest and the head of HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) resigned.
Meanwhile, the government’s part-privatisation of probation in 2014 has left a fractured system letting convicts offend again and again. Amid the chaos, a record number of people are convicted of terror offences and proposed new laws would see even more jailed.
There are 228 people currently in prison for terror-related offences – 82 per cent Islamist, 13 per cent far-right and 6 per cent “other”. But the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) says it is managing a far larger number of prisoners – 700 – under a “counterterrorism specialist case management process”.
A prison officer working in the high-security estate told The Independent that the figure “doesn’t come anywhere near” the real number of Islamist extremists inside. “I’d put another zero on that and then some,” he added. “The extremists have their own foot soldiers radicalising people who are in for minor offences.
The officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, is one of several sources who say the phenomenon of inmates claiming to convert to Islam inside prison and joining Muslim gangs is widespread.
He has noticed “no change” since a joint HMPPS and Home Office extremism unit was created in April 2017, and dismissed specialist training as a “laughable” box-ticking exercise.
Officials claimed staff would be able to “identify, report and challenge extremist views and take action”, but the officer said his colleagues were too few and too stretched to implement the policies.
“The problem is too big,” he added. “There is no time in an ordinary prison officers’ day to rehabilitate anyone. Nobody comes in to check whether these things are being done.”