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Home Office Counter-Extremism Task Force set to help tackle extremism behind bars

by Brian Sims

A new unit established to combat extremist ideology behind bars is being launched, Prisons Minister Sam Gyimah has announced. The specialist Task Force will analyse intelligence compiled by around 100 counter-terrorism experts working across the country to assess the threat posed by radicalisation in prisons.

It will also advise prison managers in England and Wales on how to deal with specific threats, as well as instruct and train prison and probation staff on how best to deter offenders from being lured into extremism.

The unit – jointly formed between Her Majesty’s Prisons and Probation Service and the Home Office – is being brought forward as part of the Prison Safety and Reform White Paper. It will work closely with the police service and other enforcement agencies and builds on progress already made in terms of addressing extremism. This includes increased training for prison governors and staff, more resources designated to identify and remove extremist literature in prisons and holding the most dangerous extremists in specialist units in the high security estate instead of within the general prison population.

Sam Gyimah commented: “Extremism is a danger to society and a threat to public safety. It’s right that we come together to bolster our response to the threats posed by radicalisation behind bars, and give our hard-working staff the skills and knowledge they need to keep our prisons and communities safe. The new team will lead this strand of important work to help combat and defeat terrorist threats posed by offenders in the prison estate and in the community. By countering the poisonous and repugnant activities of extremists, we will help ensure the safe running of our prisons and keep the public safe.”

‘Nerve centre’ for counter-terrorism and counter-extremist work

The Task Force was launched on Monday 3 April and boosts the current team carrying out work in this area. It will be the ‘nerve centre’ for all counter-terrorism and counter-extremist work across the prison estate and probation service. Specialist staff will gather and exploit evidence gleaned from front line staff. This is work that’s essential when it comes to the safe running of prisons and absolutely fundamental to public protection.

Experts will also advise on the management of dangerous and high-profile extremist prisoners and train front line prison and probation staff such that they’re equipped to deal with extremist behaviour.

A strategy centre based in London is to be supported by specialist regional teams across the country, in turn ensuring that resources are focused on addressing the most serious risks.

The new unit will build on last year’s formation of a new directorate for Security, Order and Counter-Terrorism which is responsible for monitoring and dealing with this evolving threat.

Governors have also been instructed to ban extremist literature and remove anyone from communal worship who’s seen to be promoting anti-British beliefs or other dangerous views.

A new training package configured to identify, report on and combat extremism is being rolled out to all prison officers, with new pre-employment vetting checks for chaplains already introduced back in February.

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