Prisons in the Press – 27 May

Radicalisation, prison closures and guards under pressure

A ground breaking prosecution for musical inmates this week. Image: Global Panorama

Image: Global Panorama

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Prisons in the press brings you the best articles from the past week to keep you up-to-date on prison news.

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Hot off the press

Radicalisation in prisons: The government has been accused of holding up a report on Islamist prisoners because it heavily criticises the National Offender Management Service (NOMS). The Sunday Times said that the report by from former Home Office official Ian Acheson recommends the segregation of Islamist prisoners. Sources also said that there was “widespread reluctance” among some staff to tackle Islamism because of fears they would be “hung out to dry” by management if inmates accused them of racism. PoliticsHome has more.

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Revealed this week

  1. Merseyside prison to close: One of England’s most overcrowded prisons, HMP Kennet, is to be closed by July 2017. The decision to close the 342-prisoner Category C facility was questioned by Sefton Central MP Bill Esterson. The Liverpool Echo has more.
  2. Northern Ireland guards’ details leaked: Hundreds of prison officers’ personal details have been leaked only weeks after a guard was killed by dissident terrorists. Names and birth dates of staff were accidentally emailed to a third party. Belfast Live has more.
  3. Jailing pregnant women: A report suggested that imprisoning pregnant women can cause significant harm to infants and mothers without benefiting public safety. Some 600 pregnant women are held in prisons in England & Wales every year, with at least 100 babies being born while their mother is serving a prison sentence. The Independent has more.
  4. £10m more to tackle suicide & disorder: An extra £10m is to be spent in prisons in England & Wales to tackle a rising violence and a spike in suicides. The money will be spent on extra prison staff, suicide awareness training, body cameras and drug testing, including for legal highs. The Guardian has more.
  5. Guards taken hostage: Five prison officers were taken hostage at a Suffolk jail on 12 May by an inmate wielding a twin-bladed weapon. The stand-off at HMP Highpoint on came the day after a second hostage incident at the same prison. The BBC has more.
  6. Scottish minimum sentences: Criminal justice experts have urged the Scottish government to allow more prisoners to do community service rather than locking them up.  Charities, councils and social workers would like to see the current presumption against sentences of up to three months raised substantially to 12 months. The Herald has more.

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News in context: Radicalisation in prison

There have been many sensationalist tabloid reports about radicalisation in British prisons, but the truth is harder to discern due to a lack of hard data and the current Islamophobic political climate.

The latest parliamentary briefing paper on radicalisation was published in April 2016. It has a wide-ranging discussion of the topic and what steps the government is taking to tackle radicalisation.

The government’s counter-extremism strategy released in October 2015 said there were 1,000
prisoners whose behaviour in custody raised concerns about extremism. Most were Islamist extremists. The government said groups such as Al-Muhajiroun had specifically targeted prisoners.

In February 2016, Prime Minister David Cameron said the government would act:

“I am prepared to consider major changes: from the imams we allow to preach in prison to changing the locations and methods for dealing with prisoners convicted of terrorism offences, if that is what is required.”

At the time, the government was reported to be considering a separate prison to house all Islamist extremists – a so-called “British Alcatraz”. However, both the government’s Prevent and Ibaana counter-extremism programmes have been criticised as ineffective. The latter was cancelled in July 2015.

Newly-elected London Mayor Sadiq Khan recently said the government did not know how to tackle radicalisation in prisons. He said ministers were “utterly clueless as to what to do about the problem” and said that Belmarsh prison in London was “like a training camp for extremists”.

Almost 15 per cent of the 85,000 prisoners in England & Wales identify themselves as Muslim compared with eight per cent in 2002. In the general population, Muslims account for only five per cent, so a disproportionate number end up in jail.

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Muslim prisoners in England & Wales 2009-15 (%)

Source: Radicalisation in prisons in England and Wales, House of Commons Library, April 2016

Source: Radicalisation in prisons
in England and Wales, House of Commons Library, April 2016

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Between 11 September 2001 and 31 March 2015 there were 2,944 arrests for terrorism related offences in Britain. Of these, only 786 were convicted, so they can not account for the total rise in Muslim prisoners.

A study by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence at King’s College, London in 2010 examined the evidence from 15 countries. It said that prisons were breeding grounds for
radicalisation as they provided near-perfect conditions for radical ideologies to flourish.

In January 2016, the government announced a review into radicalisation in prison to be conducted by former prison governor Ian Acheson. The report has not been released, but leaked details said that it heavily criticises NOMS.

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In other news 

Video fight club: inmates have posted pictures of themselves fighting each other and using drugs on Facebook using smuggled mobiles. The Prison Officers’ Association (POA) to call for the Government to take urgent action and stop the use of banned phones in jails. The Daily Star has a video.

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