Britain’s most dangerous convicted Islamic terrorists are boycotting prison work, education, training and deradicalisation programmes that could rehabilitate them, a watchdog has revealed.
An investigation by Charlie Taylor, the chief inspector of prisons, found almost all the Islamic terrorists currently being held in special high-security “separation” units were “refusing to take part” in any purposeful activity or work to change their beliefs or behaviour.
The nine currently being held at two high-security jails, HMP Frankland in County Durham and HMP Woodhill in Buckinghamshire, are regarded as the highest risk prisoners and are held in separation units because of fears they could radicalise other prisoners.
They are believed to include Hashem Abedi, who helped organise the 2017 Manchester Arena attack, and at least one Islamic State fighter.
Mr Taylor’s report comes just months after a terrorism watchdog warned that prison staff were so concerned about being accused of racism that Muslim terrorists had been able to seize control of wings and set up sharia courts behind bars.
The investigation by Jonathan Hall, the independent reviewer of terrorist legislation, said that Islamic extremists had sought to dictate diets and washing habits of non-Muslim prisoners, and had gone unchallenged when they insisted warders should be barred from attending Friday prayers.
As a result, Dominic Raab, the Justice Secretary, announced a significant expansion in the use of separation centres to protect the rest of the prison population from the most dangerously ideological prisoners to stop jails from becoming breeding grounds for terrorism.
Mr Taylor’s report showed that the Islamic terrorists currently held in such separation units are resisting the regime or any attempt at rehabilitation as they feel they are victims of discrimination by being consigned to them.
“Almost all prisoners refused to take part in purposeful activity, complete offending behaviour work or engage with others such as imams and psychologists,” it said.
This meant they had very limited “day-to-day interactions” with staff and could be cooped up in their cells for as long as 22 hours a day because of their refusal to participate in work, training or education.
This also fuelled a “lack of trust” in staff, “which further impeded interactions”.
Most refused to take part in “formal risk reduction work” which meant prison staff had little idea whether they were changing their behaviour.
The terrorists had the opportunity to take part in two deradicalisation programmes, but “given their well-established religious and political beliefs and the potential peer pressure from their fellows, this was too big a step for most prisoners,” said Mr Taylor.
“The expectation that men should address their offending behaviour by completing a formal intervention aimed at deradicalising their beliefs was proving unrealistic,” added the report.
It said that staff were “over-optimistic” about how far the terrorists would engage in deradicalisation. Mr Taylor suggested prison officers should set “more realistic and achievable” targets to help the terrorists “take smaller steps towards progression and behaviour change”.
“Not all staff we spoke to were sure about how their work could promote progression and lacked an awareness of how best to deliver a more enabling and psychologically informed approach to changing prisoner’s behaviour,” said the report.
Fifteen men had been held in the three separation centres since they were opened in 2017. The third, at HMP Full Sutton in East Riding of Yorkshire, is currently empty.
The report revealed there had been one serious violent incident in Oct 2019 when a member of prison staff was injured. In another case, three had to be restrained after refusing to leave a kitchen.
Concerns over staff shortages
Inspectors said they were concerned at “severe shortages” of staff at Woodhill, which was also criticised for failing to spend enough money on collecting intelligence, including monitoring telephone calls.
“This had led to a significant backlog, including many calls made in languages other than English not being analysed promptly,” it said.
The Ministry of Justice said: “Our separation centres are proving effective in preventing the most dangerous radicalisers from spreading their poisonous ideologies.
“We are going even further and have outlined tough new plans to separate more radical extremists from day one in custody, as well as investing a further £6 million to separate the most violent – neutralising their influence and stopping hatred in its tracks.”