The Government may have to give up on reforming some terrorists, says its advisor on anti-terror laws, as it emerged high-security prisoners have refused to join a flagship deradicalisation programme.
Data released under freedom of information laws has revealed 15 inmates at high-security prisons including HMP Belmarsh, HMP Wakefield and HMP Frankland have refused to enrol on the Government’s main deradicalisation programme since January 2018.
Jonathan Hall, QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, said it would be wrong to overstate the significance of the disclosure in terms of the risk to the public because of the uncertainty over the effectiveness of schemes like the Healthy Identity Intervention (HII).
But he said: “We may have to accept that some offenders and I emphasise some – [can never be reformed] although that doesn’t mean reform should be discounted for others.”
He said it was right to expect prisoners to “address the causes of their offending” but in order to do this the authorities including prison, police and probation needed “carrots and sticks.”
The Government’s proposed new anti-terror laws, currently before Parliament, removed “one of those carrots entirely” by denying the most dangerous terrorists the prospect of early release.
They will instead be required to serve a minimum of 14 years with no prospect of parole before being released under licence for up to 25 years where they could be recalled to jail for any breach of the tough conditions such as where they live and who they contact.
“This may reflect a perception that encouraging reform for these offenders is less important than it was considered previously,” said Mr Hall.
The HII scheme involves the offender attending repeated sessions with a psychologist who encourages them to talk about their motivations, beliefs, identity and relationships with both other extremists and the rest of society.
The scheme, which was piloted in 2010 and will be assessed in 2022, has previously drawn criticism. Christopher Dean, the psychologist who designed it, has even conceded that some of those who have taken part regressed because of their uniquely complex identities.
Mr Dean spoke out after HII participant Usman Khan stabbed two people to death near London Bridge on 29 November.
Khan, 28, was shot dead by police. He was jailed eight years ago for planning to set up a terrorism training camp – but appeared to be responding to rehabilitation by the time of his release in December 2018.
It has led to concern that committed terrorists are able to convince scheme organisers that they are reforming – or that a return to their communities can provide a trigger to return to terrorism.
According to the latest Government figures, 224 prisoners are serving sentences for terror related crimes. Of those, 173 are Islamist extremists.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: ‘We have world-leading measures to stop extremists from spreading their poisonous ideology behind bars and our new legislation means they will now face much tougher sentences.
‘The vast majority of high-security terror offenders have completed or are taking part in programmes, but those who refuse will remain in our strictest prisons.’