Calls for ‘fundamental review’ of prison deradicalisation programmes

Deradicalisation programmes in prisons need a “fundamental review”, a union has said.

The Prison Officers’ Association (POA) said there needed to be “stricter guidelines” on projects like those the London Bridge attacker Usman Khan took part in.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s File On 4, the union’s national chairman Mark Fairhurst said: “I would say it’s very easy to fake anything in a prison.

“We need stricter guidelines, let’s not play games with people’s lives.”

His comments came after former governor Ian Acheson said violent extremism is “clearly not under control” in jails and there is an “institutional squeamishness” among Government officials to tackle the problem.

While Jonathan Hall QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, suggested keeping prisoners behind bars for longer could “expose them to worse influences” than if they were released.

Saskia Jones and Jack Merritt were killed by Khan in November when he launched his attack armed with two knives and wearing a fake suicide vest during a prisoner rehabilitation programme near London Bridge, nearly a year after he was released halfway through a 16-year jail sentence for terror offences.

Khan is said to have taken part in both the health identity intervention (HII) and desistance and disengagement programme (DDP) during his time behind bars.

But neither course is thought to have undergone any formal evaluation process.

Although a review of HII is under way and will conclude next year.

Jack’s father Dave Merritt told File on 4: “Something is clearly not working if people are being let out and going on very soon afterwards to commit serious offences.

“One thing we are keen to point out is that longer sentences in themselves are not a solution to anything because those prisoners will be released eventually.

“I think the important thing is that steps are taken to address their offending while they’re in prison.”

According to the Government, between January 2013 and December 2019, only 3% of offenders convicted under terrorism laws went on to commit a further terrorist offence.

The latest official figures show there were 231 people in custody for terrorism-related offences in Britain in the year to the end of December.

The “vast majority” are classed as holding Islamist-extremist views, according to the Home Office.

The Ministry of Justice told the programme: “We have tough and world-leading measures in place to prevent extremist prisoners from spreading their poisonous ideology and do not hesitate to take action when needed.”

File On 4’s Extreme Measures: Can Extremists Be Deradicalised? airs on Tuesday at 8pm.