The British government has pledged to “beef up” funding for prisons to tackle radicalisation after a report said jails had failed to recognise the dangers posed by Islamist gangs and convicted terrorists.
Jonathan Hall QC, the independent reviewer of terrorist legislation, said prisons should not be places where convicted terrorists or those with terrorist links have opportunities to plan new attacks.
The Terrorism in Prisons report was commissioned after the November 2019 London Bridge terror attack in which Saskia Jones, 23, and Jack Merritt, 25, were killed.
Usman Khan, a convicted terrorist who had recently been released from prison, launched his attack at an event at Fishmongers’ Hall. Khan, who was wearing a fake suicide vest, was shot dead by armed police on London Bridge after running out of the building.
More than 200 terrorist convicts are in prisons in England and Wales, while a further 200 behind bars have links to terrorism and are deemed at risk of carrying out an attack.
Justice Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said the Conservative-led government was committed to isolating radicalisers in prisons and accepted the independent review “pretty much in full”.
He said the threat of terrorist attacks being planned in prisons was increasing because more and more terrorists were being locked up. Mr Raab admitted the government has “to do more to prevent extremists tainting the well”.
He said separation centres within prisons, used to isolate the most radical inmates, should be used more.
“We need to probably make greater use of that so I’m beefing up the money to target those offenders who need to be removed,” he told Sky News. “And finally, we will need this Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act to stop the legal attrition that we’re already starting to see, with terrorists and extremists claiming a right to socialise within prison when actually what they want to do is radicalise.”
Under the government’s new UK Bill of Rights inmates will not have a right to socialise in prison.
In his report, Mr Hall said the prison service had “lost its role in the national endeavour to reduce the risk of terrorism".
He also said the impact of Islamist gangs on prison culture had been underappreciated.
Mr Raab told Times Radio that “sensibilities” around cultural or religious practices should not prevent prisons from cracking down on radicalisation.
He said inmates responsible for preparing meals should not have access to private areas of prison kitchens without supervision.
“It’s one thing to say, of course, we need to respect the right for prisoners to be able to prepare halal food. It is another thing for them to say that kitchens are no-go areas for anyone that doesn’t respect their rules,” he told Times Radio.
“That is the kind of finely balanced judgment call, decision, set of actions, that the prison service need to monitor and they do monitor it very carefully.
“But you can see it’s fiendishly difficult. What we’re saying and what Jonathan Hall says, and I think he’s right, is we have to nip in the bud much earlier the kind of stepping away from just respecting your own faith to controlling and coercing others, because that is the precursor to the kind of radicalisation that taints the well inside prisons.”