Prison Management of Terrorism-Related Offenders: Is Separation Effective?

By Dr Julia Rushchenko

Separating Islamist extremists from the rest of the prison population is the only viable solution to prevent the spread of radicalisation to other prisoners – and to ensure meaningful rehabilitation, according to a new report from The Henry Jackson Society.

Prison Management of Terrorism-Related Offenders: Is Separation Effective? warns that, as those who have fought with Islamic State return to the UK from the battlefield, policymakers must urgently confront the issue of how extremism is managed in prisons – or face the prospect of foreign fighters spreading their ideology to other inmates.

The report argues that, while prisons and probation are supposed to be strong partners in deradicalisation, instead of promoting disengagement from violence they often facilitate extremism.

Unless we separate out extremists, we face the prospect that they will continue to be entirely comfortable with being convicted – as it grants them the opportunity to preach their ideology in prison, exploit grievances with the criminal justice system and radicalise the next generation of offenders.

The report says plainly that “disregarding the danger of recruitment by charismatic inmates and turning a blind eye to the possibility of jihadists forging alliances in prison leads to the spread of Islamism and creates either ‘lone wolves’ or extremists who become part of a group”.

The report recommends:

  • That segregation of the most dangerous inmates, either in isolation or small groups, is “the only viable solution for mitigating the threat of prison radicalisation”.
  • That policymakers must be clear on the goal of separation – be that convincing prisoners to give up violent ideology, or simply stopping them from further offences – as this will be key to successful management of terrorism-related offenders.
  • Further to the recent report of the Justice Select Committee on the Sentencing Council’s guidelines on terror offences, it should be recognised that the increasing trend of short sentences can create grievances against the criminal justice system which extremists exploit further to radicalise their targets. Alternative options to custody for some with extreme views should be considered.
  • Within separation centres, rehabilitation programmes must be individualised to the offender. Convicts will differ by social background, age, sentence or level of contact with terrorist organisations – so rehabilitation must be tailored accordingly to be successful.
  • The ERG 22+ framework, which assesses inmates’ level of engagement with extremism, their mindset and level of capability for carrying out terrorist acts, should be updated to take account of the changing demographics of offenders – including their younger age and the involvement of women.
  • When inmates are released, all affiliations to gangs and extremist groups should be monitored – and mentoring when vulnerable inmates are set free should be a mandatory part of their reintegration into society.
  • The Government should create a dedicated Prison Intelligence Unit of terrorism experts and others to analyse information about radical tendencies in prison and incentives that could be developed for people awaiting release.

Report author Dr Julia Rushchenko, Research Fellow at the Centre for the Response to Radicalisation and Terrorism at The Henry Jackson Society, said:

“Prison and probation are supposed to be strong partners in deradicalisation. But instead of promoting disengagement from violence, these systems often facilitate the spread of radical ideology by providing inmates with a platform to forge alliances, exchange experiences and recruit new followers.

“With the ongoing debate on what to do with foreign fighters returning from Syria, the Government needs to carefully consider what the most effective strategy would be for those returnees who will be prosecuted and convicted.

“If we get this wrong, we risk exacerbating the problem of radicalisation in British prisons.”

Former Minister for Crime and Security and former Minister of State for Justice, Rt Hon David Hanson MP, endorsed the report, saying:

“It is imperative that as terrorism evolves our criminal justice system transforms in tandem to tackle its root causes.

“This report has many findings that will now need the close attention of the UK Government. Be it updating and reviewing risk assessment tools or investigating the process of those who have served their sentence upon release, it is critical that politicians continue to keep counter-terrorism and its sentencing at the top of the agenda.

“Protecting our citizens is the first role of Government and Parliament. We must now progress with this report to ensure that no opportunities are missed to increase the safety of the population.”

Read the full report here.


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