In Depth

Does deradicalisation work?

Government programmes under fire following London Bridge attack

The effectiveness of government deradicalisation schemes is under intense scrutiny after two people were stabbed to death by a convicted terrorist at a prisoner rehabilitation event on Friday.

Usman Khan, a 28-year-old from Staffordshire, was shot dead by police on London Bridge after fatally attacking University of Cambridge graduates Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, and injuring three others.

The attack has triggered an urgent review of the licence conditions of convicted terrorists who have been released onto the streets of Britain.

The case of Usman Khan

Khan left prison in December 2018 after serving half of a 16-year sentence for his role in an al-Qa’eda-inspired plot to bomb the London Stock Exchange and establish a terrorist training camp.

He reportedly took part in a Healthy Identity Intervention course while in prison, and on release, had to sign up to the Desistance and Disengagement Programme (DPP). Both government schemes are designed to rehabilitate convicted terrorists or extremists.

According to the Home Office, support through the tailored DPP “could include mentoring, psychological support, theological and ideological advice”.

Khan was also wearing a GPS tag to monitor his movements.

He is understood to have been given permission by the probation service to travel from the West Midlands to London on Friday to attend an event held by Learning Together. The programme, associated with the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Criminology, brings together people in criminal justice and higher education institutions to study alongside each other in order to help educate and rehabilitate prisoners.

Fake progress

The Ministry of Justice has admitted that there is “limited evidence of what assessments and interventions are the most effective for extremist offenders”, reports The Times.

Dr Rakib Ehsan, a research fellow at right-wing think-tank the Henry Jackson Society, argues that relying on deradicalisation courses, “however well-meaning, is insufficient”.

“If, as many believe, offenders simply fake progress to their counsellors, the scheme would be responsible for providing the public with false assurances as to the safety of jihadists released to live in ordinary British communities,” Ehsan told the newspaper.

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Longer prison sentences?

Boris Johnson has pledged to introduce longer prison sentences for convicted terrorists if he wins the upcoming general election.

But the Financial Times says evidence from Northern Ireland suggests that “jail time can accelerate and intensify radicalisation”.

“The bigger issue is how to manage former terrorists both in prison and after their release,” the newspaper says.

Former prison governor Ian Acheson was tasked in 2015 with reviewing Islamist extremism in prisons for the government, and found what he describes as “serious deficiencies in almost every aspect of the management of terrorist offenders through the system”.

In an article printed in The Sunday Times yesterday, Acheson says he is “not sure any tangible progress has been made” since his review concluded, and calls for a “serious and sober review of the culture and capability of HM Prison and Probation Service to meet its primary role of keeping us safe from terrorism”.

But as The Guardian’s Alan Travis notes, “however long convicted terrorists are locked up, with the exception of a limited number of the most heinous cases, they are all going to have to be released eventually”.

He concludes: “The ‘lock ’em up and throw away the key’ battle cry may suit a panicked politician in the middle of a general election campaign, but it isn’t going to keep us safe from another Usman Khan.”

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