RECENT terror attacks by former prisoners and the suspected first terrorist attack inside a jail have highlighted once again the problem of the Islamisation of our prisons. It appears that the government has no clear idea what to do.
Last year, the government stated that there were around 650 individuals in prison or on probation being managed through a counter-terrorism process, because they are either convicted terrorists or they have been identified as showing signs of extremist views. Around 80 per cent of these are Islamist related.
Last December, it was reported that Islamist extremists are holding sharia trials in prisons, circulating banned books and openly grooming young Muslim inmates.
There are also reports that in some prisons, Muslim prisoners receive preferential treatment from the prison staff and Muslim gangs have considerable power, especially over other prisoners. Non-Muslim prisoners are being encouraged to convert by the Muslim inmates, and those who refuse may be beaten.
In January, five prison officers were taken to hospital after an attack by two inmates at HMP Whitemore, Cambridgeshire. The men wore fake suicide belts and wielded bladed weapons. They slashed at prison staff, shouting Allahu Akbar. One of the attackers had been jailed in 2015 for plotting to behead an army cadet.
Former prison governor Ian Acheson, who wrote a review of Islamist extremism in prisons with recommendations in 2016, says that prison officers now fear being taken hostage by Islamist prisoners and beheaded on camera. He is sceptical that the government will implement his recommendations to prevent terrorist incidents in prisons.
One was for Friday prayers to be carried out in prisoners’ cells rather than communally, which would stop men with the same radical ideology congregating together. The government rejected this recommendation. Political correctness and cultural sensitivity is therefore taking priority over the safety and wellbeing of prison staff. Meanwhile Wormwood Scrubs, where about a third of the prisoners are Muslim, reported ‘a sustained increase in violence linked to Friday prayers’ in January.
When Acheson gave evidence to the Justice Committee in the House of Commons, he said that prison staff did not feel equipped or confident to challenge manifestations of Islamist extremism, and that they were afraid to get involved because they would be accused of being racist.
This is a shocking and ridiculous state of affairs. How many more attacks in prisons will it take for a change in mentality?
The latest example of how our prison system is failing is the attack by Sudesh Amman in Streatham this month. Amman was known to be so dangerous on his release from prison after serving half his sentence for terror offences that he was placed under active police surveillance. Days later he stabbed two people before being shot dead by police. How did we decide that it makes sense to let such dangerous people out of prison to put members of the public at risk and to monitor them 24/7 at huge expense?
Two months earlier, Usman Khan, who was convicted of terrorist offences in 2012, killed two people and injured three others at London Bridge while out on licence from prison. Khan engaged with some counter-terrorism initiatives in prison and persuaded people that he was de-radicalised. Not all were taken in, however. One Scotland Yard officer assigned to mentor Khan saw through his ‘suspiciously rehearsed’ persona, and warned authorities about his aggressive behaviour some eight months ahead of the attack. The officer says he heard nothing back.
While Usman Khan did engage with de-radicalisation programmes, Sudesh Amman did not. It has emerged that some prisoners have been advised by their solicitors not to participate in such initiatives. Should it really be optional for prisoners whether they participate in a de-radicalisation programme?
Former Al-Qaeda member turned MI6 spy Aimen Dean is sceptical of de-radicalisation programmes, which he says are ‘riddled with naivety and a lack of understanding’. He goes so far as to say that ‘there is no such thing as a rehabilitated jihadist’. The only real test of whether a person has abandoned the jihadist mentality, he says, is whether they have done damage to that cause by informing on the networks that recruited them.
Dozens more jihadi terrorists are due to be freed on early release in the next few months. The government wants to change the law so that they serve a minimum two-thirds of their sentence. This is likely to be challenged in court.
Here are some concrete proposals for how we could change the culture of our prison system.
1. Recognise the Islamic religious motivation of most convicted terrorists. There are many peaceful Muslims, but some Muslims are inspired by the teaching of Islam to commit acts of violence.
2. Restrict congregation of Muslim prisoners. Known extremists should be kept separate from other prisoners.
3. Train prison staff in how to challenge the claims of Islam when they conflict with British values. They should be encouraged and supported to do so rather than left in fear of being called racist.
4. As of 2018 there were 61 full-time equivalent Muslim prison ‘chaplains’, nearly 40 per cent of all jail chaplains. Ian Acheson stated that selection and supervision of imams needs to be radically improved. An imam should never be the lead chaplain in a prison with authority over Christian chaplains.
5. There must be proper freedom of religion in prisons. Books, pamphlets and other resources which challenge the claims of Islam from a Christian perspective should be openly provided in all prisons, including testimonies from Muslim converts to Christianity.
6. Dangerous terrorists should not be let out. If a life sentence is not passed, on release these prisoners should be subject to house arrest.
7. Control orders, which came into effect with the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, should be reintroduced. These could restrict where someone lives, and who they are allowed to see, amongst other things. They were abolished in 2011 and replaced by Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures which are not as effective.
8. There should be explicit protection in law for those prisoners and prison officers who whistleblow when there is corruption within prisons.
Political correctness has allowed prisons to become a hotbed for Islamic extremism. This has to stop. There should be no more fear of confronting Islam. Policies like the ones above, if implemented with energy and enthusiasm, would do a lot to change the culture of our prisons and protect the public from further attacks. Until we find the moral courage to put in place policies like these, there will be more attacks and more deaths. A confident Christianity is required to inspire such moral courage.
A longer version of this article was published in Christian Concern on February 12, 2020, and is republished by kind permission.