Review of deradicalization programmes in prisons

Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 7th July 2020.

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“(1) Within one year of this Act being passed, the Secretary of State must publish and lay before Parliament a comprehensive review of the impact of the provisions of this Act on the effectiveness and availability of deradicalization programmes in prisons.

(2) The review must include an assessment of the following matters—

(a) the effectiveness of existing programmes at reducing radicalization and terrorist offending;

(b) how individuals are assessed for their suitability for a programme;

(c) the number of individuals assessed as requiring a place on a programme;

(d) the number of individuals assessed as not requiring a place on a programme;

(e) the average length of time individuals assessed as requiring a place on a programme have to wait to start a programme; and

(f) whether there is sufficient capacity and resource to meet demand for places on deradicalization programmes in prisons.

(3) The review must consider how the provisions of this Act have affected the matters listed in subsection (2).”—

This new clause requires a review of the impact of the Act on deradicalization programmes in prisons.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

We have talked in great detail about the many provisions in the Bill, but we have also talked about the many missing provisions, best evidenced by my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North, who discussed Prevent and the need for an end date for the report on its effectiveness to come into place.

One key area where we could do better in is the deradicalisation programmes in prison. While the minimum sentencing for terror offences has been increased, there is a suggestion that we could simply be delaying inevitable further offences unless we take action to use the offender’s time in prison to deradicalise them. We can only do that if there is an effective deradicalisation programme in place.

We have heard evidence that few people convicted of terrorism offences go on to commit further crimes, but some do. We have also heard evidence that these programmes are not entirely fit for purpose; perhaps, with these new longer minimum sentences, they really need a good overhaul. That is why the new clause has been tabled: to ask the Secretary of State to conduct a review of the impact of the provisions of the Bill on the effectiveness and availability of deradicalisation programmes in prison. Perhaps the Government could just tag it on to the Prevent inquiry and get two for the price of one.

The impact assessment for the Bill claims that longer incapacitation of terrorist offenders will enable

“more time in which to support their disengagement and rehabilitation through the range of tailored interventions available while they are in prison.”

However, the amount of time during which individuals have access to deradicalisation programmes in prison is not a key factor in determining their success or otherwise; rather, it is the effectiveness and the availability of the programmes in prison that has come under increasing scrutiny.

We need to know what is happening in prisons. What programmes are being delivered, who are they delivered to, who are they delivered by, when are offenders undertaking the programmes, how many deradicalisation programmes one offender in for a minimum sentence is expected to cover, and how is the success of programmes delivered? Those are just some of the questions that such a review would look into.

We need to understand the effectiveness of the programmes, where they work, where they do not and what can be improved. Currently, the main deradicalisation programme in prisons is called the Healthy Identity Intervention, which delivers one-to-one, individually tailored sessions. It is supplemented by the Desistance and Disengagement Programme, which can be offered to both prisoners and those released on licence.

Neither the Healthy Identity Intervention or the Desistance and Disengagement Programme courses have undergone any form of evaluation process to date, so perhaps the Minister will agree that a formal review is long overdue. It is a key part of our justice system, and rehabilitation should be at the centre of that, because people are released back into society. Putting someone back into society who has not been rehabilitated simply increases their chances of reoffending.

I remember the evidence from some of our witnesses—in particular from Mark Fairhurst who, at the start of his evidence, spoke of the role of key workers, the Parole Board and a range of professionals working with the offender. It was all very positive and very much to be welcomed. He went on, however, to say that an extended sentence, where an offender serves their whole sentence in prison,

“incentivises people not to behave correctly or to go on deradicalisation courses.”––[Official Report, Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Public Bill Committee, 30 June 2020; c. 69, Q145.]

All the more reason why Ministers should understand more about how the deradicalisation system works for the offender and for society.

I would particularly like to see data on the average length of time for which an individual has been assessed as needing to undergo a deradicalisation programme before they actually undertake it. I am concerned that in such cases time is of the essence. The offender is likely to feel incredibly hostile to a system that has just imprisoned them. There cannot be an indefinite wait for them to be put on to a programme if they are willing to do it. Not getting on with it just allows more time for further radicalisation and mistrust of the legal and justice system.

In addition to that evidence, Professor Andrew Silke, who has studied efforts to deradicalise those in prison for terrorism offences, has reported that some prisoners who said that they were willing to participate in a programme were never put on one before their release. That could easily be rectified. We cannot and must not take chances. We need to ensure that the programmes are readily available as and when they are needed, and that there are no delays due to capacity issues or availability.

Where insufficient resources or structures are found in prisons, the Secretary of State must take action to resolve that. They must provide the resources to ensure that it is not a lottery and that no risks or gambles are being taken on the rehabilitation of a terror offender. It is really surprising that the Bill has nothing to say on what measures will be taken to ensure that effective deradicalisation programmes are available to individuals in prisons who need them. Arguably, simply by increasing the length of time that people spend in custody the provisions of the Bill risk further alienating them and giving them grounds for grievance against the authorities, placing them at greater risk of radicalisation.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Labour, Brentford and Isleworth

I apologise for not being present to hear my hon. Friend’s earlier speech, which I gather was excellent, as I was in the House. Does he agree that deradicalisation programmes are even more important for young offenders? The data and evidence produced over the years and provided to this Committee shows that younger offenders—certainly under-25s—are more susceptible to influences, so deradicalisation, when done effectively, is even more effective in reducing reoffending when young offenders are eventually released.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. I have no doubt that she is correct. Young people are far more able to change their ways and benefit from the programmes. It is therefore essential that these programmes are in place. That is why I have spent most of my time in the past couple of weeks talking specifically about young people and how they differ from older people.

We all agree that rehabilitation is desirable and preferred, and a core cog in our justice system. Let us commit ourselves not only to talk about it, but to learn about it and ensure we deliver an effective system. The evidence so far to the Committee has suggested that it is not always effective. We need to deliver on that.

I am hopeful that the Minister will accept that a review is needed and that we need a greater understanding, just as we will have with the Prevent strategy. We need that greater understanding to ensure that the terror offenders have the support—and it is support—that they need in prison, so that when they are released into society, they can be the sort of citizens that we need them to be.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am grateful to the shadow Minister for raising this extremely important issue. As we heard in evidence a couple of weeks ago, most people who come out of prison having served a terrorism sentence do not go on to reoffend, as the shadow Minister said. I recall that the figure we were given was that only 5% to 10% of those prisoners released go on to commit subsequent terrorism offences. Thankfully, that is a low rate of recidivism, although it is very serious when it happens.

The shadow Minister asked why there are not more deradicalisation measures in this legislation. That is because most of our deradicalisation work and programmes are done operationally inside the Prison and Probation Service; they are not specified in legislation. Let me say, however, that a great deal is being done in this area. The Healthy Identity Intervention programme is one area to which the shadow Minister has referred.

We have doubled the number of specialist probation officers. As per earlier legislation, we are creating a new counter-terrorism assessment and intervention centre, set up as part of the new counter-terrorism StepUp! programme; it represents a major shift in our capability to intervene with terrorist offenders, including young terrorist offenders in exactly the way the shadow Minister was discussing earlier.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

The Minister was in full flow and doing very well, but I am interested in the statement he made that the Government have already doubled the probation capability in this area. I invite him to explain what he meant by that statement and say what the timescale is for this new centre, which sounds as if it is on the money.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The proposals that have been made will double the number of probation officers who specialise in counter-terrorism and deradicalisation work. The new counter-terrorism assessment intervention centre will do the work I was just describing, including identifying the risk people pose and getting the right specialists to work with them to reduce their risk while they are in prison. That has to be the right approach. That is a significant change and evolution in the way in which we deal with this particular cohort.

The shadow Minister mentioned the programme that is already in place—the Healthy Identity Intervention programme—which I think has merit as well.

It is a one-to-one programme that supports desistance and disengagement from extremism by targeting the social and psychological drivers of that behaviour. That intervention is delivered by highly trained psychologists and probation officers in prisons, but also—critically—with offenders on licence after they have left prison.

2.45 pm

The work being done already is valuable; the enhanced work via the new counter-terrorism assessment intervention centre that I described will go even further. I hope that illustrates the direction of travel. We want to do more in this area, for the reasons discussed, and ongoing evaluation of that will be part and parcel of the Government’s approach. There will be the normal three-year review of the legislation, of course—I suspect I may make that comment more than once as we discuss the coming 11 new clauses. That standard three-year review will be a useful and valuable checkpoint to see whether the measures that I have just described are having the desired effect.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

I would say that 5% to 10% of people reoffending in a terrorist way is 5% to 10% too many.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

The Minister is nodding his head. He may have misinterpreted what I am trying to achieve with the new clause. He was saying that he does not want the detail of how we do deradicalisation in the Bill, but that is not what I am asking. I am asking for a review of how the process is working in prisons; I am not asking for details on how deradicalisation is done to be in the Bill.

The Minister originally said that the probation capability had already been doubled within the service, but in response to my intervention he said that that was a plan yet to be properly implemented. He also talked about the specialist centre, but did not answer the question of what the timescales were. There are an awful lot of unknowns here.

The Minister said that he hoped that what he had to say indicated or illustrated the direction of travel. It did, but we do not seem to be getting anywhere fast, and for that reason I wish to press the new clause to a Division.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

Division number 3 Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill — Review of deradicalization programmes in prisons

Aye: 6 MPs

No: 8 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 8.

Question accordingly negatived.