May denies prison radicalisation is caused by staff shortages


Home Secretary Theresa May has rejected claims that staff shortages are hindering efforts to prevent Islamic radicalisation in prisons – and has been supported in doing so by prison experts.
The former head of the National Counter Terrorism Security Office has warned that stretched resources are making it increasingly difficult to find the needle in a “growing haystack of extremists”.
Ex-detective chief inspector Chris Phillips told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “What we have actually is a prison population that’s growing.
“We have less officers generally in prisons than ever before and we also have less police officers to deal with them, so what we have is a growing haystack of extremists where we still have to find the single needle that’s going to go off and do something really nasty.
“But of course we’ve got less people to go and look for them as well so it’s a really difficult thing for the police service and prison service to deal with.”
Asked if a lack of prison officers was making the job harder, Mrs May told the programme: “I don’t think that is the problem.
“But what I think we do need to look at and continue to look at – and measures have been taken to be dealing with this – of course we need to continue looking at this issue of how we can ensure that radicalisation doesn’t take place in prisons.
“In prisons often it’s about being part of a gang, being part of a group, the group that perhaps has more members you join and you can get drawn into radicalisation although they don’t intend it in the first place.”
She went on: “The work that our security services, our law enforcement agencies, are doing day in and day out is of course working to identify those who would be trying to do something nasty, who would be planning an attack or about to carry out an attack.
“But it is constant. What we have seen over the last year is a significant increase in the number of disruptions that the police have undertaken, particularly of people potentially travelling to Syria.
“So we are constantly looking at what we need to do to defeat this radicalisation.”
Mark Leech editor of Converse, the national newspaper for prisons in England and Wales, questioned whether staffing numbers could really be an issue.
Mr Leech said: “There is a real problem with radicalisation in prisons, which the Prison Service has responded to, but the real danger of radicalisation occurs where long term prisoners, often convicted or connected to terrorism, are able to mix freely with others – serving long sentences, disillusioned, and often far from home.
“Those circumstances take place in our high security prisons which have, for the most part, not suffered from staffing cuts in a real sense and are not overcrowded like other jails tend to be.”
Stephen O’Connell, president of the Prison Governors Association told Today: “I am not aware of any evidence that the issue has got worse over the last 12 months or that it has been affected by staff numbers or prisoner numbers.
“I’m not saying that that couldn’t be the case; I’m just not aware of any evidence that supports it.”
He went on: “Please don’t interpret what I’m saying as ‘there isn’t a problem’; I’m just not aware that its got worse because of the changes in staffing.
“I understand the correlation between staff numbers and prisoner numbers but when it comes to dealing with extremists, we are talking about a small number of prisoners with some very dedicated resources to actually managing those.”

Muslims radicalised in jail

Muslim prisoners at Whitemoor prison
Muslim prisoners at Whitemoor prison

The head of the prison and probation service has described the threat of Islamic radicalisation behind bars as significant.

Speaking to BBC Panorama, Michael Spurr the chief executive of the National Offender Management Service of England and Wales (NOMS) said: “There is a significant risk, given the fact that we manage some very dangerous people.

“Our job is to minimise that risk becoming a reality – that somebody in prison becomes radicalised and commits a terrorist offence.”

He warned there could be a “whole range of different potential scenarios (where) people could be hurt” if NOMS failed in its job to protect the public from extremists.

Over the last ten years the number of Muslims in prisons in England and Wales has doubled, with the figure reaching 11,729 in 2013.

There are about 100 al-Qaida-inspired Islamist terrorists behind bars.

Also on the programme and speaking for the first time since his release from prison for trying to bring Sharia Law to the streets of London, is Jordan Horner, who has taken the Islamic name Jamaal Uddin.

He claimed he had converted other prisoners during his time in prison.

Mr Horner said: “The prison officers witnessed people become Muslim and in front of them I was giving them what we call Shahada, an invitation and acceptance of Islam.

“They was becoming Muslim in front of the prison officers and they felt sort of powerless.

“They said I was trying to divide Muslims from non-Muslims, trying to get them to follow an extreme version of Islam.”

He added that in less than a year he was transferred between three different jails in an effort to disrupt his activities.

In December 2012, Horner was filmed at a protest alongside Michael Adebowale who, five months later, murdered soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich.

Horner became the first person to be placed on a five-year, landmark anti-social behaviour order, intended to stop him promoting extreme versions of Islam.

Panorama’s reporter Raphael Rowe also witnessed the moment prisoner and Muslim convert Michael Coe was met on his release from jail by two convicted Islamic extremists.

Mr Coe, whose Islamic name is Mikaeel Ibrahim, said he converted to Islam while in jail after deciding it was “the way forward”.

He was invited to take the faith by Dhiren Barot, himself a Muslim convert currently serving a minimum of 30 years in prison after admitting a plot to bomb New York landmarks.

Ibrahim told the programme-makers he was no extremist, despite appearing in a video supporting al-Qaida chief Osama Bin Laden who was killed in Pakistan by US special forces in May 2011.

Damian Evans, the governor of Whitemoor high security prison in Cambridgeshire – which holds about ten convicted terrorists and three times as many inmates with extremist links – said such prisoners pose a significant challenge but also told Panorama “we are generally good at identifying risk and acting on it”.

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick said Muslim prisoners have consistently reported feeling more unsafe than non-Muslim prisoners and “if they don’t feel they’re being protected by staff, they’ll join a group that they think can provide that protection”.

Panorama From Jail to Jihad? airs on BBC1 at 8.30pm.

Justice minister Jeremy Wright said: “The police and security services do a difficult but important job making sure some of the most dangerous terrorists in this country end up where they belong – behind bars.

“Once there, we must make sure they cannot inflict their extreme views on others.

“The challenge that our prison staff face should not be underestimated but the public can be reassured – we are committed to tackling extremism.”

Farooq Aftab, who acts as a spokesman for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, said: “The disproportional number of British Muslims in prison is a serious problem.

“The root cause is an identity crisis amongst Muslim youth who do not understand the true essence of their faith.

“It’s our job to teach them that loyalty to their country and obedience of its laws is not only possible but a mandatory part of their faith.”

Are Muslims Being Radicalised Inside Our Prisons?


‘The Stream’ Tonight on Aljazeera TV.

Are Muslims Being Radicalised Inside Our Prisons?

Join myself & other guests for a one-hour live discussion on this subject tonight on Aljazeera TV at 19:30 GMT – Sky Channel 514 – and you can also catch it live on line at

Mark Leech

Editor: Converse

The National Prisons Newspaper