UK: Imprisoned Muslim fanatics to be deprogrammed

Muslim fanatic prisoners to be ‘de-programmed’ using controversial techniques to ‘cure’ them of beliefs

Psychologists in the Prison Service will try to ‘cure’ extremist Muslim inmates of their political beliefs with controversial therapies similar to those used to ‘de-programme‘ members of religious cults.

The experimental treatments are being developed by a special Extremism Unit set up by the Ministry of Justice in January last year, The Mail on Sunday has discovered.

Sources say the therapy forms part of a wide-ranging strategy to combat Islamic extremism in Britain’s jails.

There are 90 Muslim prisoners serving time for terrorist offences, and the Ministry fears that, if left unchallenged, their violent, jihadist interpretation of Islam will spread.

About 11 per cent of prisoners are Muslim – three-and-a-half times the proportion in the UK population.

In maximum security ‘Category A’ jails such as Whitemoor in Cambridgeshire – the subject today of an exclusive report in Live magazine based on unprecedented access to both prisoners and staff – they make up 35 per cent of the inmates, and have converted numerous other prisoners to Islam.

In Whitemoor the 150 Muslim inmates include 39 who have converted in the jail since early last year. In some cases, officers believe converts have been subjected to bullying and changed their faith because they felt vulnerable.

A Ministry source said that to be a Muslim in jail was now seen as ‘cool’, and while Muslim prisoners once felt isolated and vulnerable, they were now ‘flexing their muscles’. This made it all the more important to ensure that extremist views did not spread.

The source added: ‘The great fear is that kids from places such as Southall in West London, who feel pretty alienated anyway, could be vulnerable to recruitment. We don’t have evidence this is happening – but we don’t have evidence that it’s not. We need to be aware of the possibility and act on it.’

Psychologists working with the Extremism Unit have for months been investigating ways of de-programming jihadists. Ministry sources said they planned to use ‘cognitive- behaviour’ methods, based on the notion that it is possible to change people’s behaviour by altering their perceptions and attitudes.

One source said: ‘It’s pretty clear it wouldn’t work with everyone. But our view of extremism is that, at the centre, the views of the hardcore, high-profile leaders will not be subject to change. But for those further out, it may be quite effective.’

At the same time, the Ministry had to accept that many Muslims felt a deep sense of grievance about British policy in Afghanistan and Iraq. Imams ‘have to become a valve for the venting of prisoners’ anger without lending support to extremism themselves’.

The unit will train staff to recognise the signs of extremism, such as a charismatic prisoner openly challenging the authority of the imam.

But one source said: ‘The great majority of Muslims want nothing to do with terrorism. Striking the balance is extremely delicate.’

 ‘They’re young fellas, strutting the landings like they just don’t care,’ Rodford says. ‘Actually, they do care. But they don’t make life any easier. It feels like every week you’re getting more prisoners that maybe you’d rather not have.’

An internal review in April revealed that although ‘only’ 20 per cent of inmates were members of recognised gangs, they were responsible for about half the prison’s assaults.

The statistic of eight serious attacks (only one was on an officer) in the preceding year compares well with other high-security jails, but the level is rising.
[…continue reading: HMP Islam: Inside Whitemoor prison…]

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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday October 22, 2008.
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