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Prisons: Radicalisation

Volume 802: debated on Tuesday 3 March 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to tackle radicalisation in prisons in England and Wales.

My Lords, all terrorist offenders, and offenders of concern, are subject to specialist multiagency case management to support their disengagement and manage their risk. We have a network of counterterrorism prison and probation specialists, and we utilise tailored interventions—psychological, ideological and theological —to facilitate disengagement. The most high-risk radicalisers can be managed in specialist separation centres.

I am grateful for the Minister’s reply, but there is increasing evidence that our overcrowded and understaffed prison system is failing to rehabilitate and deradicalise prisoners convicted of terrorist offences. There is also evidence that these prisoners are being further radicalised while serving their sentences. The Minister will know that the main deradicalisation programme is Healthy Identity Intervention, which has had some success, as we have heard. Can the Minister confirm that prisoners who are willing to go on this programme find they cannot get on to it before their release date? Can the Minister tell the House what impact cuts to the Prison Service are having on these rehabilitation and deradicalisation programmes, which keep the public safe on the prisoners’ release?

My Lords, there are essentially three interventions: the theological and ideological interventions programme, the healthy identities programme, and the desistance and disengagement programme. To assist with the delivery of these, we have recruited 22 specially trained imams to engage with such prisoners during their period of custody. In addition, we have recently announced a major investment in counterterrorism resources, including doubling the number of counterterrorism specialist probation staff, to address these issues after release from custody.

My Lords, can the Minister put some flesh on the bones of this? How many prisoners who are subject to these special programmes have in fact been able to attend them? On how many days in the last year have those programmes not taken place because the prisoner has not had an escort in the prison to take them to those services? If he does not have those statistics, can he tell us how on earth any Minister can come to this House or the other place and give us assurances about that without knowing how often those programmes are disrupted because of staff shortages in the prisons?

My Lords, it will not surprise the noble Lord that I do not have the precise statistics he has asked for, in particular the number of days when escorts were not available, but I will take steps to secure the relevant statistics—in so far as they are available—and will write to the noble Lord and place a copy of the letter in the Library.

My Lords, my noble and learned friend will be aware of the well-documented concerns around those who are radicalised in prison. Does he have the statistics for offenders serving time for non-terrorist-related offences who subsequently, on release, have been convicted of terrorist-related offences? If he does not have those figures today, will he agree to write to me and to place a copy of the answer in the Library?

My Lords, I confess that I am not sure such figures will be available. I will take steps to identify whether they are but, as I say, I express doubts as to whether they are. In the event that such statistics are available, I undertake to write to the noble Baroness and to place a copy in the Library.

My Lords, I declare my interest as director of the Sikh Prison Chaplaincy Service. Does the Minister agree that chaplains must be at the forefront of any move to tackle radicalisation in prisons? To do this, they have to place dated social and political norms embedded in religious texts in the context of today’s times. Will the Minister agree to meet me to discuss Sikh chaplaincy initiatives to do this and reduce reoffending rates, and how this experience might possibly be used to the benefit of other faiths?

My Lords, I mentioned earlier that 22 imams were engaged in the chaplaincy intervention programme; there is also one Sikh chaplain engaged in that programme. Each of those chaplaincy employees has undergone specialist training with regard to intervention and counterterrorism work. They are subject to vetting and due diligence checks. I am content to meet the noble Lord in due course to discuss this further.

My Lords, the Minister mentioned the enlightened separation units recommended by Ian Acheson for serious terrorist offenders, to assist their deradicalisation and prevent the radicalisation of other prisoners. The Government accepted the recommendation, the Prisons Minister describing it as

“a crucial part of our wider strategy”.

Now, more than three years on, only one is open—at HMP Frankland—causing Mr Acheson to express his dismay on BBC radio in January. When will there be more, and why the delay?

My Lords, there has been no delay in this matter. There are currently three separation centres available—at HMP Frankland, HMP Woodhill and HMP Full Sutton, which are all high-security prisons. They have capacity for 28 individuals. However, given the number of individuals selected for that separation, only one of those facilities is actually in use.

My Lords, I am sure the Minister understands the seriousness of the issue, but I am concerned about two questions asked today—by the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, and the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey—specifically about what I think are very important statistics that are necessary to understand the scale of the problem if we are to properly tackle it. On both questions, the Minister was unable to give figures and, indeed, was unsure whether such figures were available. I ask that he meet noble Lords concerned about these issues to look at the kind of information we need in order to fully understand and tackle the problem. If his responses are going to be, “I haven’t got that information” and “I don’t know if it’s available”, there will be some concern about the seriousness with which the Government take this.

My Lords, I do not accept that characterisation of my responses. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, asked for very specific statistics which I do not have to hand. That would hardly surprise anyone in this House. I undertook to determine what those statistics were and to write to him. A question of further statistics was raised. I am not certain that they even exist, but I will take steps to discover that. Regarding a meeting with concerned noble Lords, my door is always open. If they wish to contact my private office, they should, as they have in the past in some instances.