Segregation plan defended after UK prison system dubbed ‘Harvard for radicals’

A police officer stands guard outside the Horse Guards Parade in London. Police arrested an 18-year-old man on Saturday in connection to their investigation into Friday’s bombing on an Underground train. (AFP)
Updated 17 September 2017

Segregation plan defended after UK prison system dubbed ‘Harvard for radicals’

LONDON: The author of a landmark review of extremism in British prisons has defended a controversial strategy to separate “subversive offenders” from other inmates.
The UK Ministry of Justice opened its first separation center in July and plans to open two more in the coming months — housing a total of 28 inmates.
It comes as Prime Minister Theresa May put Britain on its highest security footing following a London commuter train bombing that injured 30 people on Friday.
Separating inmates was one of the central recommendations of a review into extremism in prisons led by Ian Acheson, a former prison governor, in 2016.
But the strategy has attracted criticism from some experts who claim it will fuel radicalization.
“Our view to separate extremist prisoners was born of an expert team looking at this very carefully over an extended period of time,” said Acheson in an exclusive interview with Arab News conducted before Friday’s terror attack, the fifth in Britain this year.
“If we thought this solution would exacerbate the problem, then clearly we would have been mad to implement it,” Acheson added.
“Given the scale of the problem, we believe it’s right to segregate a very small number of people whom intelligence suggests are actively subverting the prison system and national security by recruiting (potential extremists).”
Acheson added that separation is necessary to remove hate preachers from the rest of the prison population. “Anyone who says otherwise is completely wrong.”
Acheson said his review offered 69 recommendations to former Secretary of State for Justice Michael Gove, based on key findings. The Ministry of Justice has since publicly announced nine new anti-extremism measures for prisons.
As Britain’s first prison “separation center” is trialed at HMP Frankland, some experts have warned the move could make the problem worse.
John Horgan, professor at the Global Studies Institute and Department of Psychology, Georgia State University, told Arab News: “The idea of segregating radical prisoners from the rest of the prison population is a terrible idea. In an attempt to solve one problem it will create another, focusing and amplifying radicalization rather than curbing it.”

Smart monitoring
He continued: “It reeks of a knee-jerk political response and just isn’t very smart. Smart monitoring, supervision, program development, resourcing and staff training represent far better solutions.”
Denis MacEoin, a British analyst and writer and a senior fellow at New York’s Gatestone Institute, has previously described the British prison system as “Harvard for radicals.” He recommended extremists be housed in isolated units to stem further “plot making” even if it requires erecting new buildings.
One man who is serving a 24-year sentence in a UK prison told Arab News that prayer times were exploited by recruiters inside prison to lure vulnerable inmates.
“The extremists only recruit at Muslim prayer time, away from the other inmates,” said the prisoner, who spoke to Arab News on condition of anonymity.
“They get invited with a smile and promises of extra food and a nice environment. They become part of a gang and it’s the same as any other group in jail. You get fake friends.”
Acheson agreed with this analysis. “Prisoners make pragmatic decisions about their safety when they enter prisons, which are increasingly volatile environments. There is a slang called ‘Prislam’ which is a saying about a convert who reverts back to their own identity when the door is closed and nobody is observing them.”
He said: “Some people convert because it brings a sense of order and discipline to their lives and there’s nothing wrong with that. They find meaning through faith, but there is a small number of people, often in relation to substance abuse or mental health problems, who are at risk of becoming converted and then exploited and manipulated into becoming a next-generation terrorist.”
Along with the separation centers, other measures introduced in UK prisons include a crackdown on extremist literature and the tightened vetting of prison chaplains. Front-line prison officers will also be equipped to crack down on extremist behavior with new training, skills and powers.
Acheson said: “A lot of the recommendations stayed below the water line because of issues with national security. But I am led to believe that the vast majority of the recommendations are being implemented.”
Acheson said the need for training among prison staff is pressing. “It was quite clear to us that officers felt unconfident about tackling extremist language and beliefs.”
MacEoin, who authored the controversial report “The Hijacking of British Islam” for the right-wing think-tank Policy Exchange, emphasized that countering extremism in prisons is important for both Muslim and non-Muslim communities.
“Let’s say a young Muslim goes to prison for shoplifting, he could be taken under the wing of a militant Muslim. They will be very friendly but then they gradually work on him and radicalize him. We know that this has happened in very many cases,” he said.
“It’s a concern for the general public because these people turn into terrorists but it’s also a concern for the Muslim population because normal young Muslims may come out of prisons with radicalized views. Muslims don’t want extremists within their population.”
Acheson said a very complex set of factors inform prisoner decisions to convert to Islam. “Some people will convert to Islam for pragmatic reasons; in effect it’s the biggest gang in some prisons.
“If you’re a young man coming into prison for the first time, you will search for meaning and security and you may convert at least out of convenience and for fellowship and protection.
“For some vulnerable individuals, it goes further as they are exploited and become proselytizers for Islamic extremism. It’s those people we are very concerned about. They could be converted to becoming terrorists when released and radicalized.”
Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, told Arab News: “The jury is out on whether these anti-radicalization measures will be successful, as it is very early days.
“We are encouraged, however, that the prison authorities are moving cautiously and that only very small numbers of prisoners are being separated from the general population. Talk of ‘jihadi jails’ are wide of the mark.
“Whether or not this approach proves to be effective, there are broader problems in the English and Welsh prison system that urgently need addressing. Prisons are violent and overcrowded, with record levels of suicide and self-harm.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said in a statement: “We have delivered on our plans to house the most subversive prisoners in separation centers — preventing their influence over others — and have also boosted the ability of front-line staff to challenge extremist views by providing over 7,000 staff with enhanced training to tackle this evolving threat.”


Trudeau’s Liberals to form Canadian minority government: TV projections

Updated 14 min 31 sec ago

Trudeau’s Liberals to form Canadian minority government: TV projections

OTTAWA: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s ruling Liberals will form a minority government, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. projected on Monday after polls closed across the country.
The Liberals were leading or elected in 146 out of 304 electoral districts that had reported results by about 10:30 p.m. EDT (0230 GMT on Tuesday), the CBC said. Trudeau needed to win 170 seats to secure a second majority government.
A minority government in the 338-seat House of Commons would leave Trudeau in a weakened position and needing the support of left-leaning opposition parties to push through key pieces of legislation.
Ahead of the vote, polls showed a neck-and-neck race across the country as Trudeau, who took power as a charismatic figure promising “sunny ways,” battled Conservative leader Andrew Scheer for the chance to form the next government.
Trudeau, 47, the Liberal Party leader, was endorsed by former US President Barack Obama in the final stretch of the campaign and is viewed as one of the last remaining progressive leaders among the world’s major democracies.
But he was shaken during the campaign by a blackface scandal and has been dogged by criticism of his handling of a corruption case involving a major Canadian construction company. Trudeau, the son of the late Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, has also had to overcome a sense of fatigue with his government.
Trudeau, accompanied by his family, voted in Montreal on Monday after a marathon sprint campaigning across the country in the past four days. Scheer voted in his Saskatchewan electoral district.
On Twitter, Trudeau repeatedly urged people to get out and vote. Voter turnout is crucial for the Liberals, who privately fear low engagement will affect them more than the Conservatives.
“(A minority government) would force people to talk to each other, which is what we need,” said Naomi Higgins, a 25-year-old voter in Toronto who supported the Liberals four years ago but switched to the Greens in this election. “We need to ... start doing what’s best for everyone instead of what makes one party or the other look best.”
The Greens were leading or elected in one seat, while the separatist Bloc Quebecois were leading or elected in 33 seats in the province of Quebec.
Liberal campaign strategists say four members of Trudeau’s Cabinet could lose their parliamentary seats, including Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, a veteran member of parliament who is seen as one of the government’s heavyweights.
Goodale, 70, is the only Liberal member of parliament from the western province of Saskatchewan, where anger at Trudeau is mounting over federal environmental policies that the energy industry says will harm output.
The oil industry’s top lobbying group has blamed Trudeau’s policies for throttling investment in the sector, and some global energy companies have shed assets in the oil sands region of Alberta, the country’s main oil-producing province.
Canada’s economy, however, has been on a general upswing in 2019. The Canadian dollar has been the best-performing G10 currency this year, rising more than 4% against its US counterpart, as the economy added jobs at a robust pace and inflation stayed closed to the Bank of Canada’s 2% target.