It follows concerns I raised in the House of Lords last month:
“Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, what is the rate of conversion to Islam within prisons and what steps are the Prison Service taking in terms of monitoring radicalisation and external speakers who come into prisons?
Lord McNally: I do not have precise figures on conversions, but I know the background to this question of whether or not there is radical Islamisation in prisons. The studies that I have been shown reveal no conclusive evidence of this, although there are examples which give rise to concern. The staff and the wider Prison Service keep a close eye on imams in prisons. Bringing them in to lecture, preach and minister within prisons has been one of the benefits, but we must make sure that it is a positive influence, as the noble Lord suggested.”
The RUSI study warns that one of the key threats from this next generation of terrorists comes from within the ranks of the 8,000 Muslims currently serving prison terms who are at risk of being converted to extremism by hardcore inmates jailed for terrorist offences.
The report cites estimates by prison probation officers that up to one in 10 Muslim inmates are being successfully targeted while inside jail, leading to the creation of a new generation of potential attackers who are due for release in the next decade and whose previous convictions do not relate to terrorism.
The report suggests that radicalisation is taking place in British prisons at a rapid rate, especially in the eight high-security establishments where most terrorism offenders are detained.
However, newspaper reports the study’s findings as being dismissed by the Coalition Government:
“The Ministry of Justice said it did not agree that radicalisation was widespread within the prison system. A spokesman said: “We run a dedicated expert unit to tackle the risk posed by those offenders with violent extremist views and those who may attempt to improperly influence others.””
The response smacks of complacency. I trust the complacency does not extend to one of the other major findings that large-scale and co-ordinated attacks such as the 7 July bombings are likely to be replaced with terrorist assaults by highly motivated but poorly trained lone individuals whose lack of connection with any major terrorist organisation will make them more difficult for police or MI5 to detect.
RUSI, which is very well-connected and whose reports are normally highly respected, has produced a timely and important contribution to the discussion of the terrorist threat faced by the UK. Its conclusions should be taken seriously and not brushed aside by the Government.