By Simon Kent
Islamist extremists are increasingly using British jails as fertile venues to recruit inmates as potential terrorists, the departing chief inspector of prisons has warned.
Nick Hardwick spoke out after the former head of counter-terrorism at Scotland Yard was appointed to succeed him as chief inspector of prisons.
His comments come amid increasing alarm amongst prison workers about the growing presence of committed jihadists operating in organised gangs inside British jails.
“There are undoubtedly a small number of very dangerous men motivated by a religion or ideology who are trying to recruit other people so they will go on to commit offences linked to that ideology or religion”, he told The Times.
Mr Hardwick, soon to be replaced by Scotland Yard’s former head of counter terrorism command Peter Clarke, appeared to flag that Justice Secretary Michael Gove is ready to increase the fight against extremist gangs in jail. He said:
“You do have Muslim gangs but the point about it is, it is a gang.
“That is more important than it is Muslim. There might be pressure to join up, but how real that conversion is is the big question.”
According to The Times, Muslims make up nearly 40 per cent of normal wings at the high security Long Lartin prison in Worcestershire, as well as around about half the residents of main wings in Whitemoor jail in Cambridgeshire, another high security facility.
Anecdotal evidence of the emerging threat from extremism in jail includes a prisoner who loudly celebrated at the news of the death of a British serviceman, and called white people ‘white trash’.
Breitbart London has reported on the growing numbers of Muslims in UK jails and their potential for jihadi recruitment. Such is their number that Muslim inmates in many of Britain’s high security prisons are forcing non-Muslims to pay a “protection” tax if they refuse to convert to Islam in jail.
The “tax”, known as “jizya”, is described in the Koran and is currently being enforced by Islamic State terrorists in Iraq and Syria. Some alleged victims in prison said they were instructed to arrange for friends and family on the outside to transfer money to nominated accounts.
The general secretary of the Prison Officer’s Association (PAO), Steve Gillan, has previously warned that the level of Islamist extremism and radicalisation in jails is rising, with many non-Muslims facing intimidation and attacks for refusing to convert.
The prevalence of legal highs in the prison system is aiding that trend, according to Mr Hardwick. He said that prisons were having so many health emergencies caused by the use of new psychoactive substances that “basically all the available ambulances in the community on one occasion were at the prison dealing with prisoners.”
“So actually there wasn’t the resilience,” Mr Hardwick continued. “If there had been something happening in the community they weren’t there to deal with that because they were in the prison. It is a big issue.”
Mr Hardwick went on to accuse the government of being “too slow” to respond to the threat posed by such substances. He said:
“We think we need ministers to actually lead a process of keeping patterns of drug use under review and making sure there’s an adequate response.
“Otherwise we think there is a danger complacency will creep into the system.”
In October experts from the Quilliam Foundation advised that imprisoned Islamic extremists should have their own segregated prison wings to prevent the radicalisation of more moderate inmates among Britain’s Muslim prisoner population.
Mr Gove has appointed a former Home Office official to review the prison service’s approach to dealing with Islamist extremism.