Extremist prisoners to be held in 'separation centres' inside jails

Alan Travis Home affairs editor
Subversive prisoners will be moved to a separate ‘jail within a jail’. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA

Plans to house up to 28 of the most dangerous extremist prisoners in England and Wales in three “separation centres” away from mainstream prisoners are to go ahead, the Ministry of Justice has announced.

The first of the three separation centres – known as “jihadi jails” – will be opened in HMP Frankland high-security prison in the coming weeks with two others to follow.

The plan to separate “the most subversive prisoners” follows an official inquiry headed by Ian Acheson, which called for “incapacitation units” to be set up to isolate a hardcore of proselytising Islamist jihadis inside English and Welsh prisons.

Subversive prisoners will be moved to the separate “jail within a jail” if they are involved in planning terrorism, or are considered to pose a risk to national security either in person or by trying to influence other vulnerable prisoners.

The centre will be physically separate with its own cells, exercise area and visiting facility. A dedicated specialist staff will be involved in delivering “a variety of interventions” including attempted deradicalisation programmes.

The prisons minister, Sam Gyimah, said: “Any form of extremism must be defeated wherever it is found, and it is right that we separate those who pose the greatest risk in order to limit their influence over other prisoners.

“These centres are a crucial part of our wider strategy to help tackle extremism in prisons and ensure the safety and security of both our prisons and the wider public.”

The Ministry of Justice would not discuss potential candidates for the first wave of prisoners to be transferred, but they include one of the murderers of the soldier Lee Rigby, Michael Adebolajo, the radical cleric Anjem Chouduary and his accomplice Mizanur Rahman.

High-security jails at Long Lartin in Worcestershire, Full Sutton near York and Wakefield in West Yorkshire are other possible sites for separation centres.

Acheson, the former prison governor appointed by Michael Gove to conduct the inquiry into Islamist extremism in prisons, has said he wants to see a policy of “enlightened” separation in which individualised treatment plans are offered by highly trained staff with an emphasis on “humanising relationships between staff and prisoners to change their mindset”.

He has said that if the separation units are only used for punishment they will fail and could create the conditions for magnifying the sense of grievance that fuels some extremist behaviour.

The Ministry of Justice say those placed in the separation centres will be reviewed by experts every three months and only returned to the mainstream prison if it is considered that the risk they present has reduced to a level that can be effectively managed.

The opening of the separation centres comes as the justice ministry sets up a new directorate for security, order and counter-terrorism with responsibility for monitoring and dealing with the evolving threat of terrorism.

Extremist literature is already being banned in prisons and anyone promoting dangerous views removed from communal prayers.

The announcement is being made because the necessary amendment to prison rules to authorise the separation centres needs to be approved by parliament before it is dissolved for the general election.

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