Tackling Extremism in Prisons

I am today working with the Secretary of State for Justice, Liz Truss in taking action to tackle extremism in prisons, with the publication of the Acheson Report. Prisons exist to keep the public safe and Islamist extremism is a direct threat to the important work carried out in prisons.

That is why we are now taking the firm action needed in countering and confronting dangerous ideologies behind bars. It is unacceptable that prisons, responsible by the state should be used as a vehicle to help radical views thrive. We know that in our prison system today, attempts by extremists to engineer segregation, encourage aggressive conversions and intimidate prison chaplains are happening all too often.

There are no easy answers to this problem. Tackling terrorism and extremism in prisons will not be achieved through one simple approach. That is why I support the findings of the Acheson report.  We should be clear about this; this is the most dramatic departure in decades about how prisons in England and Wales deal with radicalisation.

Extremists in prisons will be separated from other inmates, thereby significantly reducing the risk of extremist gangs being able to coerce fellow prisoners into supporting warped ideologies.  It is estimated that around 1,000 inmates are vulnerable to radicalisation attempts, so the move to build special units allowing separation between radicalised inmates and other prisoners is crucial in stopping the threat of contagion.

New controls on books regarded as extremist mean that some books will be banned, with new powers given to regularly scrutinise potentially dangerous materials.  Prison chaplains will also be subject to greater vetting to ensure that the prison system is not used as a means to preach extremist ideology.

Finally, prison staff must be given further training and support so they are better equipped to deal with radicalised inmates. The Acheson report shows that many prison staff do not feel that they are able to properly confront the issue, with some staff citing fears of being labelled racist. Helping our prison civil servants is essential. Prison staff do work which is not seen by the majority of the public, but is crucial for public protection and society as a whole. Helping them will be a central tenant in building a stronger, fairer prison system.