Wandsworth Prison seen in west London, U.K. (Photographer: Graham Barclay/Bloomberg News)

Dangerous Islamist Extremists in U.K. Prisons Will Be Isolated

(Bloomberg) -- The most dangerous Islamist extremists being held in British prisons will be removed from contact with other detainees and confined to separate high-security units to prevent them spreading their ideology, the government said.

The decision to set up the special units follows a review of the risks Islamist extremists pose in prisons that the government initiated in 2015, Justice Secretary Liz Truss said in an e-mailed statement on Monday. Prison governors and guards will be given wide-ranging powers to tackle extremism, and there will be a crackdown on the circulation of extremist literature as well as tighter vetting of prison imams.

“Preventing the most dangerous extremists from radicalizing other prisoners is essential to the safe running of our prisons and fundamental to public protection,” Truss said. “I am committed to confronting and countering the spread of this poisonous ideology behind bars.”

Currently, individuals sentenced in the U.K. for terrorist crimes and holding extremist views are dispersed to prisons around the country. The government review, led by Ian Acheson, a former prison governor, found that they pose a “growing problem.” Only a summary of the review is being published for security reasons.

Aggressive Conversions

Acheson identified threats from convicted terrorists advocating support for the Islamic State group, along with Muslim gang culture and related violence, drug trafficking and criminality. Other risks stem from “charismatic” extremists acting as self-styled “emirs” and exerting a radicalizing influence on the wider Muslim prison population, and from aggressive encouragement of conversions to Islam.

The review also found “an increasing and disproportionate representation of Muslims within the criminal justice system.” The U.K. security response to the upsurge in jihadist violence around the world “has led to a significant increase in conviction rates for terrorist offenses,” Acheson said. That increase can be expected to continue, he said, “with knock-on consequences for the scale of the threat of radicalization in prisons.”