Despite introducing special programmes aimed at averting or reversing radicalisation in UK prisons such as the "Prevent" project, British penal institutions still face a significant problem with inmates being converted to radical Islam, according to Dr David Lowe, a senior research fellow at Leeds Beckett University’s Law School who runs a consultancy business in terrorism and security.
Lowe indicated that reports of Sharia cell-block courts being organised in prisons doesn't come as a surprise, as these facilities have long faced problems with radicalisation.
"When al-Qaeda* was at its height, prisoners were converted to Islamist causes, with some non-Muslim prisoners, in particular the more vulnerable prisoners who were easily influenced and who wanted a sense of belonging, being converted to Islam. When I say Islam, it was the extremist, warped version of Islam", he said.
The researcher shared his experience working on the "Prevent" project in 2014, when extremist Islamic texts written by scholars with links to al -Qaeda* and Daesh* were found in the Arabic section of the prison library, while the facility's authorities had no idea what these texts contained.
While agreeing that the problem is not new, Philip Ingram, a former British senior intelligence and security officer, said that it's not that troubling either. He points out that all sorts of gangs exist within prison walls and Islamist ones are just some of them.
"There are no out of control prisons or prison wings run by Sharia courts", Ingram underscored.
Lowe, in turn, added that the UK previously faced similar issues with IRA-related prisoners especially in the North of Ireland. There, provisional IRA and loyalist prisoners conducted what they called "court martial trials", punishing those they found guilty. Another example is extreme right elements, such as neo Nazis, who also strive to radicalise prisoners, the researcher added.
"That said, the greatest problem facing prison authorities in relation to radicalisation in prisons does come from those inspired by the violent Islamist cause", he concluded.
The researcher from Leeds Beckett University believes that the expansion of programmes that assist "those who are vulnerable to being drawn towards terrorist causes" can help in preventing radicalisation. He added that UK authorities still need to introduce new types of offences for trying to radicalise people, so that such elements can have their prison term extended and have fewer hopes of being released on parole, like what happened in the case of the notorious London Bridge attacker.
Ingram in turn noted that the system assessing parole applicants does not do its job "fully", partially due to local staff having a strong say in the process than some nationwide guidelines. At the same time, in his opinion, these guidelines need to be re-assessed more frequently than they have been.
Self-Organised Sharia Courts
The Times newspaper, citing a former inmate, reported that at least in one UK prison Islamists have organised a Sharia cell-block court. They reportedly used it to determine punishments for fellow inmates who were found "guilty" of violating the norms of Islam for such acts as, for instance, drinking alcohol.
*terrorist organisations, banned in Russia
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