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Prisons: Extremism and Radicalisation

Volume 628: debated on Tuesday 5 September 2017

We have established a new extremism unit, between Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service and the Home Office, to strengthen our approach to tackling the threat of extremism in prisons and probation. Prison governors and frontline staff in prisons and the probation service are being given the training, skills and authority needed to challenge extremist views and take action against them. The first separation centre at HMP Frankland in County Durham was opened in June 2017, and the first prisoners are now being held there. Those facilities will hold the most subversive extremist prisoners, protecting the more vulnerable from their poisonous ideology.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer, and it is right to say that extremists target and manipulate the prisoners who they think will be most susceptible. Given his answer, what impact does he anticipate the removal of such individuals will have on the prison population as a whole?

The decision to proceed with the separation centre was taken only after very careful thought. We judged that it would be beneficial for the general prison population, and in particular for vulnerable and impressionable prisoners, if we could take out of association with them those who pose the greatest risk. Those who are going to be in separation centres will be assessed by experts regularly, and they will be returned to the mainstream prison population only if it is judged that the risk they present has reduced to a level that can be effectively managed there.

Many young men start their journey towards radicalisation by seeking out in prison the strong male role models they so often lack in their lives outside. What is the Department doing to ensure that there are more better role models within the prison estate to guide them on to a better path?

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point, which I think has relevance not just to matters of penal policy but to social policy more generally. Many charitable and voluntary organisations are helping—for example, by bringing sport into prisons—to provide the adult male role models of whom he wants more. In the context of extremism, it is also important to pay tribute to the work of the imams in the prison chaplaincy service who are arguing, from a basis of scholarship and expertise, to rebut the extremist ideology that some have espoused.

Figures from the right hon. Gentleman’s own Department show that there are approximately 1,000 prisoners who have either been radicalised or are vulnerable to being radicalised. When they leave prison, those such as Khalid Masood, the Westminster terrorist, need to be effectively monitored. Is the Lord Chancellor satisfied that there is a sufficiently robust relationship between the police and the prison authorities to make sure that when such people come out of prison we know where they are and what they are doing?

The information we have is that only one of those involved in the recent attacks in London and Manchester had spent time in prison. That dated back to 2003 and there was no evidence to suggest that that man had been radicalised in prison. We clearly want the strongest possible joint work between the police, the Prison Service and the probation service. I believe that what we have at the moment is strong, but there are always lessons that can be learned and improvements that can be sought. We are committed not to be complacent but to continue with vigilance and determination.

The Secretary of State spoke in his initial answer of a new initiative. Does that come with new money and, if so, is it adequate?

It is part of the duty of the Prison Service appropriately to look after all those whom the courts have sent into custody. We have found the money for the separation centres from within Ministry of Justice budgets—a sensible prioritisation of expenditure that will bring benefits to the management of the prison population more generally by separating those who pose a particular risk through extremist ideology.