ON THE RISE IN BRITISH PRISONS
Issue Date 08 - 14 Apr, 2017 at 2:00 PM
The terrorist incident in Westminster has woken up the British government to what is perhaps the largest single source of terrorist threat to the UK – Britain’s jails. There is a lot of proselytising work going on in British jails with inmates, particularly the Black and Afro Caribbean community, being targeted for conversion to Islam. Obviously, people find themselves in jail for crimes they have committed and therefore their record for good behaviour is poor, to say the least. Many such people, from all communities, are of unstable mind and this business of targeting them for conversion is fraught with risks as the possibility that one day one of them may go out and do something quite horrendous cannot possibly be ruled out, with an entirely innocent Muslim community being left to carry the can for their actions. Nor are such people the best equipped to understand Islam; in fact, they are better equipped than most to misunderstand Islam and confuse
it with an ideology which has
nothing whatsoever to do with this great religion.
But this work is proceeding in many British jails and one of the main reasons for that is the disproportionately large number of Muslim inmates in British jails. The percentage of Muslims in the general population above the age of 15 is only 4 per cent; however, there are over 12,000 Muslims in British jails, which means 14.6 per cent of the prison population is Muslim. By contrast, while 1.5 per cent of the general population above the age of 15 are Hindus, their representation in the prison population is only 0.5 per cent.
Much of this rise in Muslim prison inmates is a 21st century phenomena. In 2002, 5,502 prisoners in England and Wales identified themselves as Muslims. Three years later the number had risen to 7,246 and a decade later, in December 2014, it had reached 12,225.
The huge increase since 2002 would suggest that it is terror related, following 9/11 in 2001. However, that is not the case. Data from the Ministry of Justice shows that between October 2012 and January 2015, out of 178 prisoners jailed for ‘terrorism-related offences where the motivation stemmed from extreme ideology’, only 104 were Muslims, which is much less than one per cent of the total Muslim prison population. So it would be difficult to argue that the radicalisation of Muslims in British jails is a result of the large number of radical prisoners.
Whatever the cause, the problem is there and it is a real one. And in recognition of this problem, the government has now announced that a specialist team of counter-terrorism experts will be launched as part of the government’s efforts to tackle what it describes as “poisonous” extremism in prisons in England and Wales.
Last year, a government-ordered review had concluded that Islamist extremism is a growing problem within jails and that there was evidence of offenders advocating support for Islamic State and “charismatic” prisoners acting as “self-styled emirs” to radicalise other inmates. In response to that inquiry, the government had announced plans to hold dangerous extremists in separate prison units.
The 100-strong taskforce now being set up by the government will assess the danger being posed by prison radicalisation and will act as the ‘nerve centre for counter extremist work across British prisons. It is an area which should have attracted the government’s attention much earlier.
Meanwhile, the first salvos have been fired in what promises to be Britain’s long Brexit battle and it cannot be said that they have gone quite Britain’s way. The EU has come out with a tough statement over how it intends to handle the Brexit negotiations making it unequivocally clear that there will be no talks on any trade relations with the 27 remaining EU countries unless there is substantial progress on Britain paying its dues and the rights of EU citizens living in Britain as well as British citizens in the EU. The EU has made it additionally clear that any deal arrived at with Britain will only apply to the British outpost of Gibraltar with Spain’s approval. Spain has long contested Britain’s right to hold on to Gibraltar and this move, which tantamounts to giving Spain a veto over Gibraltar, is not even remotely friendly, and could be a portend of things to come. If the EU sticks to its guns, we may have another Falkland-like situation on our hands. And Gibraltar is not the only place where the future status of the Union Jack is in some jeopardy. The Scottish Parliament has approved the move for another referendum on Scotland’s independence to be held sometime between the autumn of 2018 and the spring of 2019 and the Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has written to Prime Minister Theresa May intimating her of the decision of the Scottish Parliament. And Spain, seeing the big gap between cover and midoff, has played it right in the gap by saying that it was in favour of an independent Scotland joining the EU, although no such question is officially on the cards.
All of which leads to the conclusion that those who feel that Brexit was an act of monumental political stupidity may have a point. •
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