Jailed terrorists are not being properly punished for radicalising other inmates and extremism may be being ‘encouraged’ in prisons, the terror watchdog has warned.
As a result an inquiry is being launched into how prisons deal with terror convicts. Jonathan Hall QC, the Government’s independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, said there had been a ‘steady drumbeat’ of terror attacks on prison officers and some inmates were coming under the influence of ‘high status’ terrorist prisoners. ‘We need scrutiny of how prisons operate to either contain, or worse encourage, terrorism.’
Mr Hall said that he had been amazed at the way terrorist prisoners were looked up to by other inmates. ‘I find it astonishing that someone should go to prison for plotting a terrorist atrocity and the concern is not that they themselves are at risk of attack, like a paedophile is often at risk of attack because prisoners generally say what they’ve done is terrible,’ he said.
‘Terrorists automatically achieve a sort of status.’
Mr Hall’s inquiry, which will report to government, will examine how terrorism is detected, disrupted and prosecuted behind bars and whether improvements can be made. In a recent report he warned that potential offences committed by terrorist offenders in prison, such as holding weapons and radicalising others, were dealt with as disciplinary issues rather than being charged under the Terrorism Act.
A report last year by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) at King's College outlined 22 terrorist attacks across Europe in the past five years, including five in Britain, where the perpetrators had made connections in prison.
Mr Hall said: “It is unlikely that every act of encouragement will have led to a plot, so it is reasonable to assume that there is more encouragement going on in prisons than disclosed by these plots.”
Eilish O’Gara, research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society and a former counterterrorism analyst who worked in the prison system, said that the most dangerous terrorist prisoners knew they were “untouchable”. “They know how to keep their hands clean and they are very smart. They know how to run rings around the prison system.”
She added that dispersing those inmates through the prison population was not working: “You get charismatic, influential and radical people among the most vulnerable, hopeless people. It is the perfect fertile environment.”
Terrorists radicaised, or further encouraged while in prison inlcude Usman Khan, Sudesh Amman, Khairi Saadallah, Brusthom Ziamani, Naweed Ali, Khobaib Hussain and Mohibur Rahm.